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Bergen County Police officer disputes driver’s account of crash involving Chief Brian Higgins

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

EXCLUSIVE: A Mahwah woman claims that Bergen County Police Chief Brian Higgins was speeding when his county-owned vehicle rear-ended her car on Route 17 in Ramsey late last month — an account disputed by the county police officer who took the report.

Higgins couldn’t have been going as fast as Donna Orlando said he was based on the damage to her red 2010 BMW 528, the officer wrote in the accident report, a copy of which was obtained by CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

Orlando also “seemed to be very confused about what occurred,” Bergen County Police Officer Justin Garcia wrote.

Jeanne Baratta, Chief of Staff for County Executive Kathleen Donovan, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT : “We are advised that Chief Higgins admitted, at the scene, that he was at fault. [U]nder New Jersey law when you hit someone from behind you are always at fault.

“This has been turned over to the office of Professional Standards within the County Police for review,” Baratta added. “Once the review is completed the normal practice is that it is sent to the appointing authority for review and any action deemed appropriate.”

Garcia, in his report, said Orlando told him that she was “traveling in the left lane of Rt 17 northbound (Ramsey) going approximately 65 miles an hour” on Dec. 30, 2013 when she saw Higgins’ black 2013 Ford Explorer “traveling at a fast rate of speed” behind her. It was shortly before 5:30, the report says.

Orlando said Higgins “drove straight into her vehicle,” pushing it into the highway’s concrete divider near Allendale Road, according to Garcia’s report.

The posted speed limit there is 35 miles an hour, the officer’s report says.

Garcia said Orlando, 68, told him that she “struck her head on the inner roof” of her car during the crash.

Higgins, 49, told the officer that he was driving in the same lane as Orlando when he “observed traffic slowing down” in front of him, according to the report.

Orlando’s car “come to a sudden stop,” Higgins said, and he “attempted to stop his vehicle and switch into the middle lane to avoid a crash,” Garcia wrote.

However, Higgins said “there was another vehicle next to him in the middle lane,” so he “swerved to the right and struck the rear-passenger side corner of the BMW,” Garcia added.

“The amount of damage on [Orlando’s car] does not match with the description given by [her] of how fast [Higgins] was traveling,” the officer wrote.

Gacia said the location of the damage on her car “does not match” her claim that the county vehicle plowed straight into it.

However, it did match the description given by his boss, he said.

Orlando called for her own tow and left with the truck, the officer wrote.

The BCPD vehicle was towned by Bergen County Garage personnel, his report says.

“Prior to the departure of [Orlando] I handed her credentials and paperwork back to her and she asked why I did not ask for her side of the story in the accident,” Garcia added.

“I advised [her] she gave me her account of what occurred during the crash,” the officer wrote. “[She] seemed to be very confused about what occurred and that she had spoken to me already.”

Orlando initially complained of lower back pain and was attended to by EMS personnel, Garcia wrote.

“[She] refused medical attention from BLS,” he added. “I offered medical attention again for [her] and [she] refused saying she was fine.”

Higgins apparently wasn’t injured.

No summonses were immediately issued.

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