A fatal ambulance crash, a fatal shooting and then a collision between police cruisers left two people dead and six injured during a chaotic 45 minutes in Newark's West Ward this morning.
Although the first crash was unrelated to the other incidents, the police car collision involved officers heading to the scene of the shooting.
The mayhem began around 11 a.m. when a Chrysler Pacifica crashed into an ambulance at South Orange Avenue and South 9th Street, sparking a chain-reaction car wreck that also involved a food truck and a county transportation bus, according to Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray.
The crash killed 30-year-old Montclair resident Keith Chipepo, an employee of the private ambulance company, and left three others suffering from non-life threatening injuries, officials said.
Murray said the circumstances of the crash were under investigation but declined to comment further. State Troopers were apparently searching for the Chrysler Pacifica involved in the incident, according to Attorney General’s Office spokesman Paul Loriquet, who said his agency is reviewing the State Police’s involvement in the wreck.
The carnage from the collision was still evident on South Orange Avenue early Monday afternoon, as dozens of police surrounded the wrecked ambulance. The vehicle lay on its side in the middle of the roadway, while the food truck sat at the base of a lamppost where it had spun to after the crash.
Aggravated manslaughter charges were announced Monday night against the driver of the Chrysler, James A. Sterling, 29, of Elizabeth, officials said. He faces charges of eluding, aggravated assault and driving with a suspended license and causing death and bodily injury, they said. When released from hospitalization, he will be held on $300,000 bail, officials said.
Less than 30 minutes after the wreck that killed Chipepo, Newark resident Joel Evans, 31, was shot and killed near the corner of Springfield Avenue and South 19th Street, officials said.
City Police Director Samuel DeMaio described the incident as a "targeted shooting," but did not explain a motive for the killing.
Five minutes after that, DeMaio said, two Newark police cruisers crashed near the intersection of 15th Avenue and South 7th Street, injuring three officers who were heading to the scene of Evans’ death. The officers suffered non-life threatening injuries, according to DeMaio, who said one of the officers involved in the crash was Capt. Steven Yablonsky — the captain of the precinct that patrols most of the West Ward.
"Officers were out there doing what they’re supposed to do, responding for calls for help from citizens," said James Stewart Jr., president of Newark’s Fraternal Order of Police. "Unfortunately this is one of the dangers they face every day."