According to North Bergen Police Captain Gary Richmond, who heads the department's traffic division, 47-year-old Sara Alarcon was driving her 1998 Ford Explorer east on 76th Street in North Bergen around 1 p.m. July 10 when she apparently lost control of the vehicle.
"She said that when she approached Kennedy Boulevard, the car started to accelerate by itself," Richmond said. "She said she tried to apply the brakes and it didn't work."
Alarcon, a resident of Hialeah, Fla., who was visiting friends and family at the time of the accident, continued to travel down 76th Street toward Bergenline Avenue at an apparent high rate of speed. Alarcon reported that at least three cars were waiting for the traffic light at the intersection of 76th Street and Bergenline Avenue, but she swerved to avoid hitting those vehicles.
"She said that she still couldn't stop her car," Richmond said. "She claims she hit the brake, the emergency brake, and nothing stopped the car."
Alarcon maneuvered the SUV to avoid the three cars, but she continued across four lanes of Bergenline Avenue traffic. The Explorer jumped the curb and struck a tree as well as two teenagers who were on bicycles.
One of the two teens was the unfortunate 16-year-old male who was pinned by the vehicle and knocked inside of a building at 7612 Bergenline.
The vehicle destroyed the front of the offices of Leitcher and Fitschen, a long-time certified public accountant firm, and sent the unconscious teen flying off his bicycle - which was reportedly sheared in half by the collision - and through the offices.
The vehicle only came to a stop after it went completely inside the building.
"The boy was knocked inside the building, and according to our reports, suffered severe head and foot injuries," Richmond said.
The injured youth was first transported via ambulance to North Hudson Braddock Park, where he was airlifted via helicopter to University Hospital in Newark. As of Thursday, he was still listed in critical condition. He had to endure at least three operations since the time of the accident.
The driver and the second teen were also taken to local hospitals, both treated at Palisades Medical Center and released.
Richmond said that Alarcon was cooperative with North Bergen police, giving a statement soon after the accident took place. As of now, Alarcon has not been hit with any charges or issued summonses as a result of the accident, but her vehicle was impounded to see if the Explorer did indeed have the acceleration problems that she reported.
There was no evidence of Alarcon being under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the accident, Richmond said.
"There was no indication whatsoever of this being a DUI," Richmond said. "The woman was pretty upset by the accident. It seems to be just an unfortunate accident. Until we get the results back from the vehicle, that's the way it will remain. Even then, it might be hard to charge her with anything. She might have panicked and hit the accelerator instead of the brake. No one knows. Thank God no one else was injured. It could have been far worse."
Torres to be charged in fatal crash
In other North Bergen traffic-related matters, 19-year-old Alexis Torres will be charged later this week with vehicular homicide in his part of the tragic crash June 20 that left his passenger, 18-year-old Rebeka Verea, dead on her graduation night from Cliffside Park High School.
Richmond said that North Bergen police and the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office were waiting for Torres to recover from the injuries he suffered in the horrific crash on West Side Avenue, when Torres drove his uncle's Mercedes Benz into the back-end of a tractor-trailer, instantly killing Verea, the daughter of North Hudson Community Action Corporation medical chief Dr. Jorge Verea.
They had been driving back from a graduation party at the time.
Torres, a former North Bergen resident now living in Fair Lawn, was released from Kessler Rehabilitation Institute in West Orange on Tuesday and is now healthy enough to stand the charges.
"We have been in contact with his lawyer and we're in the process of charging him with death by auto and reckless driving," Richmond said. "He will turn himself in with his lawyer to face the charges within the next couple of days."
Torres was believed to be driving the Mercedes at a high rate of speed at the time of the crash, because there were no skid marks and the vehicle's roof was sheared off by the impact into the truck.
Once Torres turns himself over to authorities in a result of the charges, he will be arraigned in Central Judicial Processing in Hudson County Superior Court, where bail will be set.
Last Sunday, the deceased teen's parents held a luncheon in Bergen County to help raise money for the Rebeka Verea Foundation and to raise awareness about speeding among teenagers.
Richmond said the North Bergen police were doing everything they could to cut down on the amount of speeding vehicles that travel West Side Avenue.
"We've been there even before this horrible accident," Richmond said. "We have a radar patrol down there a lot. Most of our radar details are focused there, because we know people travel at a fast rate on West Side. We're going to continue to do our part to cut down on the speeding."
Richmond said that he attended the Verea Foundation luncheon, along with North Bergen Police Chief William Galvin.