FREEHOLD - An off-duty New Jersey police officer has been charged with vehicular homicide in a crash on the Garden State Parkway last fall that killed a Maryland couple.
John McClave III, 34, of Toms River, is charged with two counts of second-degree vehicular homicide, the Monmouth County prosecutor’s office said Friday. He is a member of the Hillside police department but has been suspended without pay.
Prosecutors said McClave was on his way to work in Union County on the evening of Oct. 9 when his pickup drifted off the highway in Tipton Falls. The truck hit a car driven by 40-year-old Angel Acevedo Jr. of Baltimore. Acevedo and his wife, 35-year-old Daniela Correia Salles, were pronounced dead at the scene.
Prosecutors allege that an investigation by Monmouth County and local authorities concluded that McClave was driving "recklessly while under the influence of intoxicating substances." His vehicle didn’t slow after leaving the parkway, resulting in the vehicle becoming airborne after hitting an embankment and then striking the victims' car, the affidavit said.
McClave was also cited for the traffic offenses of reckless driving, failure to maintain lanes or wear a seat belt, and having an open container of alcohol in a vehicle.
Acting county prosecutor Lori Linskey said in a statement that McClave's alleged actions "far crossed the line separating passive negligence from active criminality, and as a result, a married couple have lost their lives."
The Asbury Park Press reports that an affidavit of probable cause alleged that a blood sample was positive for an "impairing level" of Delta-9 THC, the intoxicating compound in marijuana, as well as ethanol or ethyl alcohol at a level below the state’s usual threshold for drunken driving. A medical expert said he was impaired at the time of the crash, the affidavit said.
Defense attorney Timothy Smith told the newspaper that THC levels in fluids such as blood "are not reliable indicators of marijuana intoxication," but it appeared the state's case against his client "is largely grounded in such a premise."
"This fact and others weigh in favor of a determination that the tragic events of Oct. 9, 2021, occurred by way of accident and not criminality," Smith said. He called McClave "a family man with an unblemished record" who "adamantly maintains" his innocence.
"We are prepared to tirelessly and vigorously fight to vindicate him," Smith said.
Chief Vincent Ricciardi of the Hillside police department said in a statement that McClave had been suspended without pay and vowed "appropriate actions" regarding his employment upon the conclusion of the case.