Editor's note: This story has been updated.**
WESTFIELD, NJ — Ashley Redding was just making a quick run to CVS the night of Jan. 28, 2018. She said she told her husband, Quinton Redding, and their three young children that she’d be right back. Instead, she ended up at the hospital.
Redding was driving on Central Avenue when another car, driven by a minor with five other minors in the car, attempted to turn left into the Krauser's parking lot. According to the police report, the girl said she didn't see Redding’s car coming. The two cars collided, then both hit a utility pole, according to the crash report.
The girl, who is the daughter of Westfield Police Captain John Ricerca, did not receive a ticket that night.
Westfield police officers have discretion with tickets given after a crash, according to Acting Police Chief Chris Battiloro. It is not known how common it is for someone at fault in a crash like this one to not receive a ticket.
Redding and her lawyer, Joshua McMahon, believe that Ricerca’s daughter received special treatment.
“I was speechless,” said Redding, who literally has had trouble finding the right words ever since she hit her head in the crash. “I picked up the police report and it said ‘no tickets issued.’”
“If anybody else did that to another person, there’s no way they’re walking away without no tickets,” McMahon said.
If McMahon’s name sounds familiar, it could be because he went before the Mountainside Town Council about their police department more than a year before a lawsuit brought allegations of police misconduct there to light. He called Westfield “Mountainside, part two.”
“People lose faith when people in the justice system when you are not impartial and blind — when you treat people completely different based on connections,” McMahon said.
McMahon, who has his office in Westfield and knew the Redding family well, said that at first he tried to solve things diplomatically.
“I actually reached out, from having worked with the prosecutor for a long time, to people at the police department,” McMahon said. “I said to them, ‘Hey guys, I don’t want this to be a thing. You know, there’s no need for that. Ashley doesn’t really have a bad bone in her body … like, ‘Hey, go do your jobs. Just issue the ticket.’ And nobody did anything when they were given that opportunity to resolve it through diplomacy, so to speak. And so I contacted the [Union County] Prosecutor’s Office and lodged a complaint with the internal affairs division.”
Mark Spivey, director of communications for the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, said that the office cannot confirm nor deny details about, or the existence of, investigations of this nature.
As the 30-day deadline to give Ricerca’s daughter a ticket approached, Union County Prosecutor Michael Monahan sent an official request to Westfield Municipal Court to extend the statute of limitations. She was issued four tickets in March for having too many passengers in the car on a probationary license, failure to give proper signal, improper right and left turns and careless driving, Redding confirmed. A few days later, the tickets were transferred to Mountainside Municipal Court.
“No explanation for it being transferred to Mountainside was given,” McMahon said. “We were never notified about the April 5th court date, even though I put in a notice of appearance, a letter of representation to Mountainside. Ashley doesn’t get told. Her lawyer doesn’t get told. The crime victim bill of rights requires that you talk to the victim before you do anything.”
But the prosecutor in Mountainside, former Westfield Town Councilman James Foerst, said that McMahon was informed — that it was his understanding that the court had sent a letter to McMahon informing him of the court date, and that McMahon wrote back saying that he could not be there that day, but to let him know the outcome.
(TAPinto Westfield has filed a request for all documents related to this case.)
Foerst said that they waited April 5 for Redding to see if she was coming to court, but that she didn’t show.
The judge in Mountainside dismissed the tickets that day. Because the tickets were issued after the 30-day statute of limitations had ended, Foerst said, the defendant would have been denied her right to due process.
“But they are still able to avail themselves of the civil court system, which is what this person [Redding] should do,” Foerst said.
Was the case a conflict of interest for Foerst?
“Definitely not,” Foerst said. “Otherwise I would not have heard the case.” He said he did not know the Ricerca family, and that the case was judged according to the law. Foerst added that he did know Captain Ricerca in a professional capacity, but that they were not friends.
Why the tickets she eventually got were filed after the 30-day limit is not known.
Police Chief Wayman did not respond to requests for comments about this story before his retirement was announced Aug. 1. Acting Chief Battiloro declined to comment on this story, but he did answer general questions about the department.
“I can’t tell you exactly how often summonses are issued as a result of collisions, but they do, at times, get issued,” Battiloro said. “Officers are expected to use good judgment when making such determinations, keeping the safety of the public foremost in mind. Discretion and tolerance are an important part of any effective traffic enforcement program.”
“I think we’re all very disappointed with the court system and the police,” McMahon said. “And we are hoping that the Union County Prosecutor is going to finalize their report and make public what is going on here — what is going on with these cops that are covering this up and what is going on with these two courts that are a mess, that are transferring cases for no reason.”
McMahon said that Mayor Shelley Brindle refused to meet with Redding with him present.
In response, Brindle said she was disappointed that she never heard from Redding directly, but that she had written to McMahon, “I would be happy to meet with you as I would any constituent. The same is true for Ms. Redding. I would encourage you to have her reach out directly. However, if you intend to represent Ms. Redding in a lawsuit against the town it would be inappropriate for me to meet with you jointly in that capacity.”
Brindle told TAPinto Westfield that she was concerned for Redding, as she would be for any constituent. She said that she is not involved in the decisions made between the courts, and that she has no more insight into the investigation than what she has read in the news.
“I hope that this specific experience doesn’t jade her or other residents on the process,” Brindle said.
An Uncertain Future, the Kindness of Strangers
Redding said she was badly injured in the crash. Six months later, a bruise is visible on her leg. The biggest issue, for her, is the neurological damage caused by the head injury, she said. At first, Redding said, she suffered persistent headaches; later, she had to re-learn basic math.
“I put my dishes in the garbage instead of the sink,” she said. “My words are all mixed up.”
Until the crash, Redding was the breadwinner of her household. Her husband, Quinton, took care of the kids during the day, then worked evenings as a youth basketball coach. Since Jan. 28, she has been unable to work at her job as a school psychologist in Paterson, she said, and she fears that once she’s able to return, there won’t be a job to go back to.
“It’s put a huge strain on things,” Redding said. The family is receiving SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) for groceries, she said.
“I had to sell things. I sold jewelry,” she said. “We’ve had garage sales to sell all my kids old stuff. You know, just, whatever we can do, at this point.”
Redding’s oldest daughter turned 8 last month.
“Obviously, with everything that’s going on, my kids are very aware,” Redding said. “My 7-year-old is like, ‘Mom, you don’t have to get me birthday presents, ’cause I know we don’t have any money.’”
It is unclear how the lack of a ticket to the other driver will affect payouts from the insurance companies.
Redding said that she spends her days going from doctors to therapies – physical therapy, speech therapy, vision therapy, vestibular therapy and cognitive therapy.
“It’s been a whole upheaval of trying to find the balance between having someone watching the kids, him working, me going to therapies,” Redding said. Now, with school out and Quinton working, she often has to take her kids — ages 8, 5 and 3 — with her.
Until a couple of weeks ago, Redding said, even some of her friends did not know her situation. But when Redding went public, members of the community who learned of her circumstances expressed outrage and compassion.
Karen Wachs, a Westfield resident and business and healthcare attorney who had never met Redding, decided to set up a GoFundMe page to help the family pay their bills. In seven days, the campaign exceeded its $5,000 goal, raising more than $9,000.
“As soon as I read the article [on NJ.com] and the post on the Wesfield Facebook page,* I knew I had to do something,” Wachs said. “It wasn't just one thing, it was the totality of the circumstances: the lack of culpability of the driver, the abhorrent way she was treated by the legal system and her injuries.”
Just a few years ago, Wachs said, she fell outside her old law firm’s office, suffered a concussion and whiplash that resulted in excruciating headaches. She was laid off three days later, all while her house was on the market.
“I remember how tough it was to deal with the pain and life and work, so I could only imagine how difficult it was for her to deal with even more severe injuries and young kids,” Wachs said. “I knew I needed to connect her with resources and make her feel good about Westfield again. And I looked at her young girls — they are dancers like my girls were; and her husband is so well-loved in the community — he even taught my girls at the Y wrap program. There was just this instant connection. I always live my life by the motto ‘there by the grace of God goes I.’”
Redding wished to thank everyone who has helped her.
“This GoFundMe and the showing of support for everyone, I mean, it’s been amazing,” Redding said. “This has really given me something. A little bit of faith in people, and moving on, and being able to keep my head up a little bit.”
*The Westfield, NJ Facebook group was created by and is administrated partly by TAPinto Westfield owner and editor Jackie Lieberman. The group is unaffiliated with TAPinto.
** This story has been updated with corrections and a clarification.