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CRESSKILL — Two officers remain suspended and face departmental violations for rushing to a fatal car accident last month, despite being cleared of possible wrongdoing by Bergen County prosecutors, according to an attorney defending one of the men.
Prosecutors advised the borough Monday that a criminal investigation into "the conduct of certain police officers from several jurisdictions" no longer involves Cresskill, according to a letter from the borough to Albert Wunsch, an attorney defending Officer Brad Levitzki.
"Accordingly, the internal affairs investigation will now proceed within the required time limits," Borough Attorney Vincent Salvatore wrote yesterday.
Levitzki and Officer Matthew Banta, who were among the first to respond to the Oct. 16 crash that killed a 10-year-old girl, have been departmentally charged with conduct unbecoming a public employee, insubordination, neglect of duty and abuse of borough police cars and equipment.
"None of these charges are any issues the Prosecutor's Office would have been looking at," Wunsch said. "What the Prosecutor's Office would probably be involved with is whether or not there was a high-speed chase. But Cresskill was not accused and was not a party to any high-speed chase. ... The Prosecutor's Office is not going after Cresskill officers for leaving town to render aid to minor children."
Authorities say Harold Saenz, 22, stole a Mercedes-Benz in Bergenfield and took off as the owner followed him in another car and called 911 during the pursuit. Saenz slammed into a Honda Accord at high speed at an intersection in New Milford, cutting the Accord in half, prosecutors said.
Police departments that responded to the incident have stated they were not involved in the chase and arrived only after the crash took place.
Cresskill Police Chief Stephen Lillis suspended the officers Oct. 22, shortly after ordering grief counseling for the men, who administered first aid to the girl who died and a 14-year-old who suffered serious injuries, according to Wunsch.
Two days after their suspension, the town's 14-member police union announced a unanimous vote of no confidence in the chief. Lillis declined to comment Tuesday.
The department's handling of the matter may lead to a court battle with the state's police union, which has accused the town of violating internal-investigation guidelines prescribed by the state's attorney general.
The letter from Salvatore to Wunsch states that David F. Corrigan of Keyport in Monmouth County will serve as the town's attorney in the matter. State union officials say internal investigations must be handled by the department or by county prosecutors.
Saenz is charged with felony murder and aggravated manslaughter in the death of Miriam Avraham, 10, of Fair Lawn. He is being held at the Bergen County Jail on $1 million bail.$44124
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