Drunk-driving NJ cop to serve less jail time after blaming dead victim
LONG BRANCH — A former city police officer will serve even less time in jail than he was originally sentenced two years ago after successfully arguing that the 66-year-old woman he killed in a drunk-driving crash was partly at fault for her death.
A Superior Court judge this week sentenced Jake Pascucci, 31, to eight months in county jail. That’s four months less than what Judge Michael Toto had handed down two summers ago.
Pascucci appealed the original sentence, arguing that the judge had misunderstood the law. A panel of appellate judges in April agreed, and ordered Toto to resentence the former officer.
Pascucci pleaded guilty to third-degree strict liability vehicular homicide, a law that was signed by Gov. Chris Christie just 63 days before the fatal crash on 8:15 p.m. Sept. 22, 2017, at the intersection of Ocean Boulevard and South Broadway.
The new law was meant to crack down on drunk drivers, taking away their ability to shift blame to victims as a defense. But Pascucci did not go to trial and chose to accept responsibility.
Sentencing, however, is governed by a separate set of law that requires judges to weigh a list of aggravating and mitigating factors before deciding on a length of incarceration.
Pascucci’s defense attorney argued in 2018 that his client should get probation and no time behind bars because the victim had been jaywalking across the highway.
A witness who had been stopped at the light waiting to turn right on Ocean Avenue told detectives that the victim, who was wearing an oversized white T-shirt, was crossing the street even though she did not have the right of away. The woman walked over the grassy median and took a few steps into the roadway before she started to sprint.
Pascucci’s car hit Karen Borkowski at full speed.
“She flew over the entire intersection and landed about approximately 10 feet in the south bound lane on the road but against the medians curb,” the witness told police.
The judge in 2018 said he was not allowed to consider this evidence because of the new law.
But a three-judge appellate panel in April concluded that the judge was mistaken. While the strict-liability DWI law prevents defendants from blaming victims when it comes to determining their guilt, that provision does not apply when it comes to their sentencing.
Prosecutors in Middlesex County, who took up the case to avoid a conflict of interest with law enforcement in Monmouth County, argued that while the judge had been wrong in his reasoning, he was right not to apply that mitigating factor anyway because Pascucci should not have been driving drunk and at least two other vehicles had seen and stopped for Borkowski.
Borkowski’s husband said the couple had been in Long Branch attending a church convention and that his wife had run out to the CVS when she was killed.
Pascucci, who has been walking free pending the appeal and the new sentencing, has until Friday to surrender to sheriff’s officers to serve out his new sentence.
This is the second high-profile resentencing by a state court this month. Last week, a judge sitting in Somerset County resentenced former TV and film actress Amy Locane to eight years in prison. Locane had originally served less than three years in prison for a fatal 2010 drunken driving crash in Montgomery. A series of appeals that continued long after she left prison found that the trial judge had inappropriately downgraded her jury conviction and sentence.