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Ocean County Superior Court Judge Craig Wellerson has just ordered the release of the identity of a group of minors who killed a Jackson Township man by crashing an off-road dirt bike into him, FAA News has learned.

The purpose of the release of their identities is so that his widow can commence a civil lawsuit against the minors.

In August 2022, Matthew Holmes, a 58 year old resident of Jackson Township, was killed after being struck by a minor operating an off-road dirt bike. Mr. Holmes was walking on Indiero Road at the time.

The minor driver was part of a larger group of bikers. Mr. Holmes had previous encounters with the group of juveniles.

The Certificate of Death lists the Immediate Cause of Death as "Multiple Blunt Force Injuries Due to Motor Vehicle Accident."

The Jackson Township Police Department opened an initial investigation, and recorded the identities of all of the juveniles involved in the crash. Due to the possibility of filing criminal charges against some of the juveniles, the police department forwarded the investigation to the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office.

Ultimately, the Prosecutor's Office chose not to file any criminal charges in the matter.

Being that this group of juveniles knew Mr. Holmes and had previous encounters with him, his widow retained Brick Attorney Steven Kessel Esq of Drazin & Warshaw, P.C. to file a civil lawsuit against those responsible for the crash.

In order to be able to interview all the juveniles involved to ascertain any possible criminal intentions during the crash, Mr. Kessel requested the identities of all the juveniles from the Jackson Township Police Department. They responded that they forwarded the entire report to the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office and they should follow up with them.

Mr. Kessel filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for release of the identities of the minors. The Ocean County Prosecutor's Office denied the request, asserting that such information is exempt under OPRA.

In response, Mr. Kessel charged on and dragged the Prosecutor's Office to Superior Court to compel release.

Mr. Kessel cited case law of State in the Interest of D.H. In that case, the Court permitted the release of identities of minors who were not criminally charged as the victim required that information "in order to commence civil action."

Mr. Kessel also argued that the identities of the entire group of juveniles (in addition to the one who killed Mr. Holmes) should be released as that information is on the Motor Vehicle Crash Report and there is no law that makes confidential identities of juveniles named in a crash report.

In support of release of this information, Mr. Kessel cited case law from First Media vs. Ewing Township in which the Court found that a police report naming a minor is not "a record pertaining to juveniles charged with delinquency," rather it is a "record pertaining to police conduct," and therefore, without a "clear showing" why the identities should not be released, such identities would be released.

Ultimately, agreeing that the Prosecutor's Office did not make a "clear showing" that the Plaintiff is not entitled to the release of the identities, Judge Wellerson has just Ordered the Prosecutor's Office to release the "standard police accident report, all investigative reports, the reports of the Serious Traffic Accident Response Team, all statements by participants and witnesses, all diagrams and photographs related to the accident, and any other investigative materials that are in the possession, control and custody of the Prosecutor’s Office, including but not limited to records and reports that contain the names, addresses and statements of persons who may be witnesses or participants in the activities that surround the decedent’s death."

As previously reported here on FAA News, Judge Hodgson will be taking the reigns as Assignment Judge of the Ocean County Superior Court.

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Aaron said...

Lakewood developers who hire kids to throw stones and shoot guns at the homes of those with whom they have an ax to grind should really take note - this ruling could require the police department and Prosecutor's Office to release their identities even though they are "just kids."

Anonymous said...

Assuming the police took down the names and didn't 'lose' their notes...

Anonymous said...

This is a sensible decision. People must be held accountable for their actions, including all aiders and abetters. Enough with the ridiculous age excuse.

Chatz said...

How about an editor of a local weekly that published op-eds in his weekly rag to incite the youngsters to take vigilante action against an individual he doesn't like? It appears from case law that he can also be named as a defendant-participant in a civil action.