BY MICHAEL RICONDA
WEST NYACK – An off-duty NYPD officer was one of two individuals killed in a head-on collision on the New York State Thruway I-87 during the early morning of Tuesday, August 12.
According to New York State Police, the accident occurred shortly before 7 a.m. when a 2002 Dodge Dakota driven by off-duty officer Richard E. Christopher, 32, of Suffern, struck a 2003 Honda CRV driven by James B. DeVito, 59, of Airmont, around Exit 15 in Suffern. Investigators have determined Christopher was traveling southbound in the northbound lane for unknown reasons.
The accident was characterized as severe, with both vehicles “demolished” on impact. Police reported Christopher and DeVito were dead before the first responders ever arrived at the scene.
New York State Police Captain Richard Mazzone said Christopher was with the NYPD’s 43rd Precinct. “It’s certainly upsetting and again, our condolences go out to the families of both of the deceased,” Mazzone stated.
The drivers were confirmed to be the sole occupants of the vehicles and no other cars or individuals are believed to have been involved.
Investigators are continuing to piece together the accident, interviewing all available confirmed eyewitnesses. They have not released the speed of the vehicles or why Christopher turned the wrong way onto I-87.
Autopsies and toxicology reports are underway. Police said nothing found in Christopher’s car offers probable cause to suspect he was driving under the influence.
Wrong way accidents have been an issue in the past, but New York State Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas Madison assured travelers that the area near the accident was clearly marked and included four doppler radar-activated wrong way signs in the highest risk zone.
“We’ll continue to work with our partners in the New York State Police Troop T to identify high accident and incident locations and see if additional signage is warranted,” Madison said.
Another recent wrong way incident occurred on January 7 when an elderly Spring Valley man with dementia was stopped by a state trooper in Tuxedo after traveling about eight miles northbound in the Thruway’s southbound lane.