A New Jersey man has been arrested and charged in the fatal hit-and-run accident that killed an off-duty NYPD officer from Valley Stream, who authorities say drew his gun at another driver prior to being struck, officials said Monday.
William Espinal-Mejia, 35, of Linden, New Jersey, was charged with a single count of second-degree leaving the scene of an accident when he turned himself into authorities Monday evening, according to a statement from the Union County Prosecutor’s Office.
Bail was set at $100,000. It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney and he didn’t enter a plea, said Mark Spivey, a spokesman for the Union County Prosecutor’s Office.
Rookie cop Vincent E. Harrison, 25, was struck and killed after he exited his car on the shoulder of the New Jersey Turnpike in Elizabeth following a collision with another car, according to New Jersey State Police. Harrison was inspecting vehicle damage when an Infiniti driven by Espinal-Mejia struck him as he stood in the roadway about 3:28 a.m., police said.
After the first accident, the prosecutor’s office revealed Monday for the first time, Harrison “reportedly exited his vehicle and engaged in an exchange of words with the other driver.”
According to a news release from the prosecutor’s office, “Information provided to law enforcement has led investigators to believe that Harrison had his weapon drawn immediately prior to being struck by a third vehicle operated by Espinal-Mejia, who stopped briefly but then left the scene before troopers arrived.”
Spivey said the circumstances in which Harrison drew his weapon “remains under investigation.” He said he was unsure if the gun was Harrison’s NYPD service weapon.
Spivey said prosecutors believe Espinal-Mejia’s decision to leave the scene was “not at all” impacted by Harrison’s drawn gun. The spokesman said he “can’t speculate” on whether Harrison would have faced any criminal charges for drawing his weapon had he survived.
An NYPD spokesman Monday night referred all inquiries about the case to New Jersey authorities.
Harrison had been driving a 2013 Chevrolet Cruze in the right-center lane of the roadway. A 2003 Ford Escape was traveling in the right lane. Harrison had been changing lanes into the right lane when the Cruze collided with the Escape, police said.
After stopping briefly, the Espinal-Mejia’s Infiniti left the accident scene. Harrison died at the scene of severe injuries, police said.
Harrison joined the NYPD in July 2014 and was assigned as a patrol officer to the 100th Precinct, which covers parts of the Rockaways in Queens, according to a department spokesman.
A man who answered the telephone Monday at Harrison’s residence in Valley Stream but who didn’t want to be identified said funeral plans had yet to be made, but expected there would be a service next week. The family had yet to be provided definitive information from New Jersey officials about the accident and had not been told when Harrison’s body would be made available for the funeral, the man said.