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The Jackson Township Police Department is off the hook from a lawsuit filed by the widow of a man who was crashed into, and fatally struck by a group of juveniles zooming around on ATV's, after a Superior Court judge ruled that the police department is immune from failing to enforce laws.

According to the complaint, filed in New Jersey Superior Court in Ocean County by Red Bank Attorney Steven L. Kessel Esq. of Drazin & Warshaw, P.C.:

Debbora Holmes and Matthew Holmes lived together in their home on Indiero Road, Jackson, NJ, which is a public street. N.J.S.A. 39: 3C-17(b) prohibits the operation of a dirt bike on public streets.

Over many months, juveniles Vinson Kaufmann, Christopher DelMonte, Antonio Delhaya, and Robert Mazalewski, Jr., repeatedly raced dirt bikes in groups on Indiero Road, in front of the Holmes' house.

The dirt bikes did not have working mufflers or other noise suppression. Their operation created a private nuisance and disturbed Debbora and Matthew Holmes as they tried to enjoy the tranquility of their home and neighborhood.

Throughout these months, Matthew Holmes and other residents repeatedly called the Jackson Township Police Department to complain about the manner in which operators of dirt bikes disturbed the neighborhood.

Matthew Holmes also tried to flag down the bike riders to request that they comply with the law and not operate their dirt bikes on Indiero Road so as not to disturb him or his wife or terrorize the neighborhood. They refused to stop and they disregarded him.

On August 7, 2022, Matthew Holmes was working in the front yard of his home when Kaufmann, DelMonte, Delhaya, and Mazalewski, Jr., acting in concert, rode their separate dirt bikes on Indiero Road in tandem with each other in front of the Holmes' home.

A short time later, they again drove their dirt bikes on Indiero Road in the opposite direction.

When Kaufmann, DelMonte, Delhaya, and Mazalewski, Jr., drove their dirt bikes past the Holmes' home the second time, Matthew Holmes stepped into the street in an effort at self-help to abate the nuisance they were causing. When he was in the street, Kaufmann drove his dirt bike into Matthew Holmes, failed to yield to him, and struck him, causing him pain and suffering until he died from his injuries.

Kaufmann, DelMonte, Delhaya, and Mazalewski, Jr. acted negligently and in concert to create a private nuisance to disturb Matthew and Debbora Holmes and provoke Matthew to respond to their actions, and doing so, caused his death.

Moreover, Kaufmann acted negligently in failing to yield to Matthew Holmes or slow down when he saw him in the roadway in front of him, and in operating his dirt bike so as to strike him and caused his death.

At the time of the crash, Debbora Holmes observed her husband when or immediately after he was struck by Kaufmann and died. As a result of the concerted actions of the juveniles, they negligently inflicted emotional distress on Debbora Holmes.

The complaint demands that judgment be entered in favor of the Estate of Matthew Holmes and against Vinson Kaufmann, Christopher DelMonte, Antonio Delhaya, and Robert Mazalewski, Jr., jointly and severally, for damages, together with interest and costs.

The complaint also names as defendants Robert J. Mazalewski, the parent of defendant Robert Mazalewski, Jr, and Jill Delhaya, the parent of defendant Antonio Delhaya, Chris I. DelMonte and Jennifer DelMonte, the parents of defendant Christopher DelMonte, and Edward Kaufmann and Valerie Kaufmann, the parents of defendant Vinson Kaufmann, as they "had a duty to supervise and control [their childrens] illegal behavior," and the dirt bikes were not covered by a policy of liability insurance, contrary to N.J.S.A. 39:3C-20 and was unregistered, contrary to N.J.S.A. 39:3C-3, and could not be operated on public streets pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:3C-17(b), yet, "they negligently permitted [their children] to use the bikes, thereby causing Matthew Holmes’ death.

The suit also named as Defendant the Township of Jackson, through its employees working in its Police Department.

Numerous complaints were made by members of the public between 2019 and August 7, 2022 to the Jackson Township Police Department concerning the illegal operation of dirt bikes on Indiero Road and throughout Jackson Township in general. The Jackson Township Police Department failed to identify persons who were illegally operating dirt bikes, failed to take action to reduce or eliminate the effects of their illegal operation of the dirt bikes upon nearby residents, failed to restrain the illegal dirt bike activities on public roadways, and failed to utilize their police powers to reduce the disturbance and danger caused by the dirt bike riders’ illegal activities.

Because of this unreasonable failure by the Jackson Township Police Department to discharge its duty, both Debbora Holmes and Matthew Holmes were caused to be injured and Matthew Holmes was caused to be placed in danger died in an effort to stop behavior that the police could not, the complaint charged.

Township Attorney Patrick F. Varga Esq. argued that the claim that the police department is liable for "failure to enforce laws" must be dismissed as the state’s Torts Claim Act (N.J.S.A. 59:2-4) instructs: “a public entity is not liable for any injury caused by adopting or failing to adopt a law or by failing to enforce a law."

Courts have consistently addressed whether a public entity, such as the Township of Jackson fails to act in enforcing the law, in similar circumstances as the instance matter, and have habitually concluded that absolute immunity applies and that a claim against the municipality could not be made. 

The area within which the government has the power to act for the public good is almost without limit, and therefore, the government should not have the duty to do everything that might be done. Lopez v. Cty. Of Elizabeth.

In response, the Plaintiff’s counsel cited news stories wherein the police department acknowledged numerous complaints regarding dirt bikes, and pledged to crack down on the issue. Accordingly, they argued that their complaint against the Township is for the police department not keeping their word.

Judge Must agreed with the Township that the complaint is a standard claim of "failure to enforce" for which the Township is granted statutory immune. Accordingly, Judge Must dismissed the Township from the litigation.

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