Retired NJ cop dies with his 2 kids in flaming wreck
ANDOVER — A retired police officer and his two young children died Friday afternoon in a fiery two-vehicle crash that also claimed the life of a 22-year-old driver.
Andrew Benavente, 36, was driving his 13-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter in his 2001 Ford Ranger pick-up at about 4 p.m. when they were struck head-on by a 2021 Jeep Rubicon that crossed into the wrong lane, police said.
Newton-Sparta Road is divided by solid double-yellow lines.
All four victims were trapped in their vehicles while the pick-up with the family from Newton burst into flames.
While waiting for fire trucks to arrive, first responders used fire extinguishers to no avail. One of the responders used a personal vehicle and chain to pull the Jeep away from the burning pick-up.
Firefighters then used the jaws of life to pull Bruce Cseh, 22, out of the Jeep. The Blairstown man was taken to Morristown Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
The three victims in the Ford, which included Andrew "AJ" Benavente Jr. and Madelyn Benavente, were pronounced dead at the scene.
The man and his two children are survived by their wife and mother, whose brother launched a GoFundMe campaign to help her.
"Digna Melendez-Benavente is now faced with the overwhelming task of having to say goodbye to her beloved husband and two children," the campaign page says. "As a grieving mother and widow, she will need all the support and assistance we can offer."
Benavente, who retired from the Newark Police Department, was from a law enforcement family. His brother, sister and brother-in-law are all police officers. His father is also a retired officer, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 12 said.
Benavente's brother-in-law described him as "an adoring father ... loving brother and an attentive son, always there to support and guide those he held dear."
He remembered AJ for his "sharp mind and quick wit ... [whose] laughter filled the room with warmth."
AJ's sister, Madelyn, who was about to graduate kindergarten, was "a little princess with a mischievous smile."
"Madelyn's memory will forever be treasured as a symbol of innocence, beauty, and the purest form of joy," Edwin Melendez said in his heartbreaking tribute.
The circumstances that led up to the crash remain under investigation.