ROXBURY, NJ – The motorist who hit and severely injured Mount Arlington Police Sgt. James Distasio in December continues to insist the incident was a tragic accident but fears the matter will wipe him out financially.
The driver, Chatham lawyer William Anastasio, faces a careless driving charge related to the Dec. 11 incident, which took place on Howard Boulevard near the Roxbury/Mount Arlington border. He is also being sued by Distasio.
It’s the lawsuit that most worries the 66-year-old Anastasio, who said he planned to retire this month and begin collecting social security payments.
“Last Thursday, I got a summons and complaint for a civil case for effectively millions of dollars in damages that I have to respond to,” he said Wednesday. “He’s going after my entire retirement. And the only house that I have left in the world they are going to try to take from me.”
Coincidence or Fraud Attempt?
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Distasio by Iselin lawyer John Vlasac, not only accuses Anastasio of “negligently, carelessly and/or recklessly” driving his car but also contends he is attempting to defraud Distasio out of compensation.
The complaint alleges Anastasio transferred to a family trust, for $1, his Chatham house “with the actual intent to hinder, delay or defraud” creditors including Distasio. It says Anastasio recorded the deed on Feb. 5, and contends the document was “purportedly executed” four days before the accident.
Vlasac did not return a message left at his law office.
Anastasio insists he did not transfer the house due to the accident. “I was looking forward to retiring,” he said. “I put that property into a trust a few days before the accident. They’re trying to get the property that doesn’t have a mortgage on it.”
He said his auto insurance company is unlikely willing to fight the matter and will probably just pay out the policy limit. “It’s cheaper for them to pay it and just walk away and that is what they intend to do,” Anastasio said. “They made that clear.”
Nothing He Could Do
Anastasio said he will have to hire a lawyer to help with the lawsuit, but before that gets going he needs to deal with the careless driving charge. He said he hopes to beat the ticket, contending he’s seen the police evidence and none of it shows he drove carelessly.
Anastasio asserts he was driving southbound at about 25 mph on the night of the incident, which took place on Howard Boulevard near the Seasons Drive intersection, when Distasio – who was in the area due to a motor vehicle incident - walked in front of his car.
“It was about 6:45,” he said. “There was a tow-truck on the left (northbound) side, halfway in a side street. It had a car on the back of it. I saw all this after I stopped. I was just driving straight. There was nothing on my side of the road. I was just driving home when, boom; he just popped up in front of me. He walked right into my car. There was not a thing I could have done to avoid that accident.”
Anastasio said he stopped his car, attempted to help the sergeant and cooperated fully with police. He said he was not ticketed at the time but found a summons on the ground by his front door more than two months afterward.
The case is being heard in Pequannock Municipal Court, according to Anastasio, who is seeking a dismissal.
“Municipal court requires charges to be filed within 30 days,” he said. “On Feb. 23, I found the envelope, not stamped, on the ground in front of my mailbox. It was clean and pristine. In it was an electronic summons for careless driving.”
Anastasio said he “sent a lot of requests to the court” to find out when the summons was issued. He said the ticket is dated Dec. 11, but the court system computer says it was written Dec. 28. “I’m still waiting for proof when it was mailed,” he said. “I know I got it on Feb. 23.”
Despite his insistence of innocence, and his concern about the lawsuit, Anastasio said he is torn by the matter. He said he feels terrible about what happened to Distasio, affectionately known in the area as "Sgt. Jimmy,"
“I’m kind of up against a rock and a hard place here,” he said. “He’s a good man and he is hurt. He is loved by everybody. The people who work at the gas station across the street. All the police on the scene. The investigators. Everybody’s a friend of this guy and it’s very tough.”
Distasio was hospitalized and subsequently underwent treatment at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in Chester. He returned home March 19.
In May, Distasio – sitting in a golf cart – led an entourage of Roxbury students on bicycles who participated in the Eisenhower Middle School’s annual Student Unity Tour.