An intoxicated driver smashed into a police cruiser and killed the Mount Arlington officer inside early Sunday morning, Morris County Prosecutor Robert A. Bianchi said.
Officer Joseph Wargo, 38, was pronounced dead at 1:25 a.m. at about an hour after the crash in Mount Arlington, Bianchi said. Police have arrested Michael Cassella, 29, of Howell, with several charges including vehicular homicide and aggravated manslaughter.
Information provided by the prosecutor's office did not specificy a blood alcohol level or say what intoxicating substance Cassella is alleged to have used.
"We are deeply saddened by the tragic and senseless death of Officer Wargo," Bianchi said. "He died proudly serving his community."
Bianchi said that at about 12:12 a.m., the Morris County Communications Center received a report of a motor vehicle entrapment involving a Mount Arlington Police cruiser on Route 80 East.
Police determined Cassella, who was traveling west on Route 80 at a “high rate of speed,” lost control and slid sideways across the center median into the eastbound side of traffic, Bianchi said. Cassella's vehichle then struck Wargo’s crusier, which was heading eastbound “in a non-emergencay mode of travel,” he said.
The New Jersey State Police, along with other area law enforcement agencies were dispatched to the scene. When they arrived, they found Cassella’s 2011 white Mitsubishi Lancer positioned perpendicular to the direction of traffic on the eastbound side of traffic, Bianchi said.
Wargo’s cruiser, which suffered extensive front-end damage, was found further eastbound in the woods off of the highway, he said.
Mount Arlington Mayor Art Ondish, reached Sunday, called the death "a tragedy for Mount Arlington."
"We lost one of our family and it's just a time to grieve right now," Ondish said.
The Morristown Police Department, through the Nixle community notification service, offered condolences as well: "Thoughts &prayers go out to mt arlington pd & the family of Ofc. Joe Wargo who died this morning in a horrible crash on rt.80."
Bail was set for Cassella at $500,000 with no 10 percent option. Cassella was taken to the Morris County Correctional Facility in lieu of bail. He's charged with aggravated manslaughter, vehicular homicide, driving while intoxicated, reckless driving and speeding.
"Offer Wargo's death, as well as the [by a man ], again underscored the dangers that all of our police officers face each day," Bianchi said. "While Morris County enjoys a safe community, the fact is that each day every police officer knows that at any moment a situation could arise that places their life in danger."
"On behalf of the men and women of the Morris County Prosecutor's Office and the entire law enforcement community, I extend our prayers and condolences to Officer Wargo's family, friends and the Mount Arlington Police Department," he said.
According to the state Department of Corrections, Cassella had previously been jailed 2009 in Monmouth County on drug convictions, but was released later that year.
The accident remains under investigation and police are asking anyone with information to call the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office at 973-285-2900 or the Morris County Sheriff’s Office at 1-800-COP-CALL.