According to Weehawken Public Safety Director Jeff Welz, Jon Draksin, a Yugoslavian immigrant who had a history of legal and mental problems, dove into the Hudson River near the NY Waterway ferry terminal after crashing his car around 2 p.m. last Tuesday. His body was recovered by New York police divers about an hour later.
Draksin did this with at least 20 to 25 witnesses, most of whom were NY Waterway employees, looking on, not knowing what to make of it.
According to Welz, Draksin was first spotted by witnesses to be driving his maroon Plymouth Reliant around the parking lot of the ferry terminal in a very erratic manner. Weehawken police were summoned to the scene to investigate the disturbance.
"But then he was spotted traveling at a high rate of speed from the overflow parking lot and was headed straight toward the river," Welz said. "Witnesses said that it looked as if he wanted to drive the car right into the river."
But Draksin's car was stopped short of his apparent destination when it struck a three-foot concrete divider. Because of the speed in which the vehicle was traveling, the car flew about 35 to 40 feet in the air before it landed about 15 feet from the water's edge.
"The vehicle apparently catapulted high into the air and crash-landed down below," Welz said.
Witnesses then told police that they couldn't believe what happened next.
"The impact with the stone wall totally disabled the car," Welz said. "But the driver of the vehicle then jumped out of the car and jumped right into the water and began to swim away from the shore."
Police already on the scene tried to encourage Draksin to come in from the water, but he ignored their pleas.
"He then submerged himself," Welz said. "The police made an attempt to try to bring him back, but he was gone."
Several emergency agencies, such as the New York Police Harbor Unit, the New York Police Air Rescue Unit, the New York Fire Department's fire boat, the United States Coast Guard and the Port Authority police aided the Weehawken police and the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue in the rescue attempt, but it was to no avail. "It was immediately a search and rescue," Welz said. "But after a while, when he wasn't found, we knew that the hopes of rescuing him were not good. When he went under, he didn't come up. There were about 50 rescue personnel on hand trying to help."
After an hour, the New York police divers found Draksin's body. It was brought to shore. An emergency effort by paramedics from the Jersey City Medical Center and the Weehawken Volunteer First Aid Squad to revive Draksin were futile.
"He was pronounced dead at the scene," Welz said. "The body was then brought to the Medical Examiner for an autopsy."
Welz said that the investigation into the strange incident is still ongoing with Weehawken detectives working in coordination with the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office.
"Although the investigation continues, it's being treated as an apparent suicide," Welz said. "It appeared to be a distraught act."
Welz said that after conducting interviews and a search on Draksin, Weehawken police learned that Draksin, who came to the United States from Yugoslavia 15 years ago, was a carpenter who had just recently lost his job.
Draksin also apparently was convicted of vehicular manslaughter for his involvement in a traffic accident in the Bronx in 1996 and was facing possible deportation charges as a result of that accident. Draksin apparently spent 18 months in prison for the accident.
Draksin, who lived most of his life in the United States in New York but moved to Cliffside Park a year ago to live with some family members, was also recently arrested in Cliffside Park and charged with driving while intoxicated, police said. It was not known whether drugs or alcohol played into his erratic driving on Tuesday. A toxicology report may reveal that at a later date.
Onlookers still couldn't believe what they saw Tuesday.
"The witnesses said that they couldn't believe their eyes," Welz said. "They watched this guy crash his car, watched it sail in the air, then saw him jump out of the car and into the water. The NY Waterway workers were in shock. They had no idea what was going on. I've never seen or heard of anything like it. It really was like something out of a movie. It was definitely a bizarre series of events and an apparent deliberate act by the victim."
Added Welz, "The one silver lining in all of this was that he didn't injure anyone else or harm other property. It was a tremendous effort by all the rescue people involved."