By Kristi Funderburk
VINELAND — A Cumberland County man with a lengthy criminal history is faulting Vineland police for his March car crash that killed an 81-year-old city man.
Michael A. Jones, a Bridgeton man who now faces several charges in the incident, filed a lawsuit against the department from the Cumberland County Jail. He’s asking for $1.25 million plus coverage for his medical fees and any upcoming legal fees.
"Officers of the Vineland Police Department continued to chase me in a high-speed chase at excessive speed rates of about 100 miles per hour causing me to crash, hurt myself and also kill someone," Jones wrote in the suit.
Alfred S. Costantino was heading to work on the last day of March when he started to turn his red van left on Chestnut Avenue from Holmes Avenue, a small street near his home. Jones was driving east on Chestnut Avenue in a white paramedic vehicle that he allegedly stole hours before from Franklinville Fire Company.
Costantino died at the scene. Jones sustained injuries that were not life threatening. He was charged with felony murder, aggravated manslaughter, aggravated manslaughter for causing death while fleeing or eluding police, eluding, unlawful taking of a means of conveyance (joyriding), aggravated assault and being an unlicensed driver involved in a fatal crash. According to the state Department of Corrections, Jones has spent most of his adult life in and out of prison for charges related to burglary, theft and eluding arrest.
He was released last August after serving time at Southern State Correctional Facility in Delmont for resisting arrest and creating a risk to the public while operating a motor vehicle. Jane Costantino, the victim’s wife, said Friday the lawsuit was "ridiculous and unfair."
"He doesn’t seem to be a man that’s responsible for his own actions," she said.
Jones’ case has not yet been presented to a grand jury, Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said Friday. There are several law enforcement agencies, some out of the county, involved in the case, she said.
In the suit, Jones claims officers violated his constitutional rights "by performing their duties negligently against me." He’s requesting a trial by jury.
"Their negligence caused me to have an accident, kill someone and hurt myself as well," he wrote. "This incident could have been avoided had these police officers taken the proper measures to assure safety in the community under extreme circumstances."
Vineland police had been notified of the stolen vehicle when it entered city limits and, soon after, gave chase. But a police shift supervisor called off the pursuit before the vehicles reached Main Road.
Neither City Solicitor Alfred Verderose nor the Vineland Police Department have received notice of the lawsuit, Mayor Robert Romano said. "If it is true that he filed the lawsuit on our premise — and we haven’t seen anything — that’s a ridiculous claim," he said.
Romano wouldn’t comment further on the issue, citing pending litigation. He said a similar lawsuit surfaced when he was still working with the Vineland Police Department in the mid-1980s. Police were pursuing Jeffrey Pindale of Vineland when he struck a vehicle in the intersection of Delsea Drive and Chestnut Avenue, killing three people and seriously injuring two others. Survivors and members of the victims’ families sued the city, but a federal judge dismissed the case.
Pindale was found guilty and sentenced to 60 years in prison. He died in prison in 2004.