MONROE TWP. — A Monroe Township police officer who was seriously injured when he was hit by a drunken driver in 2014 will probably be forced to retire with a medical disability while the man who hit him negotiates to receive only probation.
It was a little after 9:30 p.m.on June 21 when Ptl. Anthony Vezza made a motor vehicle stop, pulling over a vehicle on Route 322 for having an expired registration.
Vezza parked his patrol car on the shoulder, with the front end partially in the travel lane. He got out of his car and walked toward the car he pulled over. As he reached the front driver’s side wheel of his patrol car, a vehicle traveling west on Route 322 hit the driver’s side rear fender of the police car, according to police reports.
The car rotated, slid along the police car and hit Viezza, throwing him about 30 feet. He came to rest in the travel lane of the road.
Vezza saw he was still in danger as he spotted headlights bearing down on him. Despite a traumatic leg injury, he managed to pull himself up against the car he had pulled over. Vezza had lost his radio when he was hit, so he asked the driver to call 9-1-1, even instructing the man on what to say.
Vezza was airlifted to Cooper University Hospital in Camden.
An investigation showed that the driver who’d hit Vezza, Jesse J. Petryk, had a blood alcohol level of .319, almost four times the legal limit, police said.
Petryk was charged with three counts of assault by auto, causing serious bodily injury while operating a vehicle with a suspended license, DWI and several motor vehicle violations.
Since the crash, Vezza has had several surgeries and has undergone extensive physical therapy. Despite all that, he cannot run and bend properly and that is enough to require sometime soon that he take a medical retirement.
Vezza said on Wednesday he has learned that Petryk has pleaded guilty and, as part of a plea agreement, will be sentenced to probation.
“The first time I heard about it was I got as notice in the mail” around March 11.
“I called the Victim Advocate, who was surprised I hadn’t been consulted,” Vezza said.
But after consulting with the lawyer who’s prosecuting the case, she called Vezza and told him that since Petryk has no criminal history and this is a first offense, there was no expectation of incarceration, said Vezza.
He wrote a letter to Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean Dalton.
“He called me back Monday morning. He apologized for me not being consulted,” but pretty much repeated what the Victim Advocate said, that there never was any expectation of incarceration.
“I would feel better if he got some type of punishment for crippling me,” Vezza said. “I was confined to bed for two months. My wife had to learn to be a nurse just to take care of me. I can’t run now. I’ll have to retire.
“He didn’t even have proper insurance,” Vezza said. “I’m feeling there’s no punishment for the crime. “
Vezza still will be able to read a victim statement when Petryk is sentenced.
This “causes me to lose my career after 14 years. That’s the way it goes, I guess,” said Vezza.
“Part of me thinks I’m being unrealistic and part of me is just pissed off,” he said.”
Dalton, in an e-mailed statement on Thursday, described the plea process in this case.
“The defendant, Jesse J. Petryk, pled guilty to the most serious charge of assault by auto at his first court appearance, an uncommon and unexpectedly early occurrence in the course of a prosecution,” wrote Dalton.
“His plea provides for a probationary sentence, which is what he would likely have received after trial on a third-degree offense with no prior felony record. In sentencing guidelines, there is a presumption of non-imprisonment for first-time offenders convicted of third- and fourth-degree crimes. The defendant will serve a term of probation ordered by the court.
“He will also be required to comply with all conditions imposed by the court. Should he violate probation, he faces imprisonment. He will have a felony record. Since he also pled guilty to driving under the influence, his license will be suspended and he will have court-ordered drug/alcohol evaluation and treatment.
“Regrettably, Officer Vezza was not present at the arraignment when Petryk's plea was taken and did not receive notice about the plea agreement until after the hearing. As the officer knows from subsequent discussions with him, we regret this error and we have taken steps to ensure this does not occur again,” Dalton said.