NJ Police Released Drugged-up Man Who Killed Baby Hours Later in Crash
RARITAN BOROUGH — This borough has agreed to pay $450,000 to the family of a 1-year-old child killed by a driver who was in police custody for heroin possession hours before the fatal crash.
Matias Ortega-Rosales was struck and killed on his first birthday by a Ford Escape driven by Ronald Rebernik, 66, on the night of July 7, 2018. Rebernik is currently serving a 15-year sentence in state prison.
The infant was in a stroller pushed by his mother, Domitila Rosales, on the sidewalk across from St. Anns's Church on Anderson Street around 7:15 p.m. when the vehicle crossed the double yellow lines, hit two parked cars, and struck the family, according to the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office.
In court, Rebernik admitted to using heroin the day of the crash before pleading guilty to first-degree homicide, among other offenses. Test results revealed he also tested positive for fentanyl, according to a report from MyCentralJersey.com. And police records reportedly show that he had been charged with drug possession hours before the crash.
Rebernik's vehicle was searched by police at a Raritan QuickChek. Police body camera footage shows that officers said they found drugs in the SUV and he was taken into custody.
The MyCentralJersey report says that Rebernik was taken to the police station. But he was then released and allowed to drive his SUV.
A lawsuit filed in 2020 by Rosales and Lorenzo Ortega, the boy's father, accused the Raritan police of wrongfully releasing Rebernik. The civil complaint against the borough, the police department, and an officer stated that Rebernik should have remained detained until it was safe for him to operate a vehicle.
"Despite determining Rebernik appeared to be under the influence of drugs and/or other intoxicants, defendants released Rebernik from their custody without undertaking reasonable precautions... and without preventing him from driving his motor vehicle," the lawsuit said.
On Jan. 24, the Borough of Raritan agreed to pay the couple $450,000 to settle the suit.
Of the funds, $100,000 was dedicated to a settlement for 5-year-old Daniel Ortega, who was walking with his mother and baby brother to the park at the time of the crash. He suffered a fractured skull, according to media reports.