EMT, motorist killed in related accidents

First aid volunteer
killed crossing Rt. 9
to help with accident

Staff Writer

EMT, motorist killed
in related accidents
First aid volunteer

James DodridgeJames Dodridge

killed crossing Rt. 9

to help with accident


Staff Writer

A first aid volunteer who on Sept. 11 assisted with the rescue effort at ground zero was killed Monday night on Route 9 in Old Bridge while responding to another fatal car accident.

The volunteer, James Dodridge, 52, was struck while crossing the highway on foot to help with an accident involving a township woman who would later die as the result of a heart attack. The woman had reportedly suffered chest pains just before the three-vehicle chain-reaction collision in which she was involved, police said.

Dodridge, a township resident and an emergency medical technician (EMT) with the Old Bridge Red and White Volunteer First Aid Squad, was hit by a moving vehicle at 6:41 p.m. as he crossed the northbound lanes of Route 9 on foot to reach the shoulder where the three vehicles were involved in the earlier accident, said Old Bridge Police Capt. Robert Bonfante.

The three-vehicle accident, which occurred just north of Ferry Road at approximately 6:33 p.m., happened when the second of two vehicles stopped in traffic for a red light at Inverness Drive was rear-ended by a third vehicle, Bonfante said.

June Cuozzo, 62, of Old Bridge, the driver of the third vehicle, suffered severe chest pain before her vehicle crashed into the one in front of her, which was driven by Eric Solano, 33, of West Orange, Bonfante said.

Solano’s vehicle was then pushed into the rear of another vehicle operated by Edward Palluzzi, 73, of Old Bridge.

Dodridge, who was driving on Route 9 southbound, happened to see the three vehicles on the northbound shoulder, and pulled onto the center grass median so he could get out and assist the victims, Bonfante said.

Dodridge, who had a combined 10 years of service with two town­ship first aid squads, was walking over to Cuozzo’s vehicle when he was hit, the police captain said.

"He was going to help the woman who had chest pain," Bonfante said.

As Dodridge was crossing from the highway’s middle to right lane, he was struck by a car driven by Madeline Schmidt, 53, of Morganville, according to Bonfante.

Dodridge and Cuozzo were both transported to Raritan Bay Medical Center’s Old Bridge divi­sion by other members of the town­ship’s Red and White First Aid Squad. Both were later pro­nounced dead at the hospital, Bonfante said.

No charges have been filed in either accident and both collisions remain under investigation, Bonfante stated

Police responding to the scene closed the northbound right lane of Route 9 between Ferry Road and Cindy Street until about 9:30 p.m. for the cleanup effort. Shattered glass was scattered about the closed right lane at the site of both acci­dents.

On Tuesday, Dodridge’s col­leagues in the Red and White squad, spoke about their lost mem­ber as a brother who gave all and never asked for anything in return.

A purple and black bunting now drapes the garage doors of the squad’s building on Marlboro Road as a sign of mourning. An American flag flies at half-staff, as do the flags at other municipal buildings by the order of Mayor Jim Phillips.

That Dodridge would stop to help the accident victims, even while off-duty, was no surprise to the other squad members, accord­ing to Carol Steinach, the all-vol­unteer group’s president.

"Jim was a very dedicated member," Steinach said. "It didn’t matter where he was or where he was going, even if he was on the way to work. He would stop at any accident."

Ed Seminick, the squad’s cap­tain, agreed.

"He would never pass the scene of any accident," Seminick said. "He’d always stop to help."

A resident of Sunset Avenue in South Old Bridge, Dodridge worked full time as an inventory control specialist for Elephant Wireless in Edison, Steinach said.

Dodridge first joined the Red and White squad in 1998, following four years of service with the Old Bridge Green and White Squad, which serves the eastern part of the township, Steinach said.

Because the Ohio native was single, lived alone and had no rela­tives in the area, Dodridge consid­ered the 57-member Red and White Squad to be his family, Steinach said.

"We’re one big happy family here," Steinach said. "We were his only family, being that his family lives so far away. He was here all the time."

Dodridge’s mother still resides in Ohio and a brother, Michael, lives in Maryland, squad members said.

A true team player, Dodridge would back any of his colleagues at any disaster scene.

"Anyone who needed cover, he was there to help," Steinach said. "He would never ask anyone to cover in return. He went out of his way to help anyone in need."

Presently, Dodridge was the chief of the squad’s Tuesday night crew, Steinach said. He had also previously served as its chaplain and as a maintenance engineer.

In addition, Dodridge served as an alternate for the 14th district of the state’s First Aid Council, Steinach said. As a result, Dodridge knew first aid volunteers and other EMTs from New Jersey and other states. Many of those volunteers have already committed to travel great distances to attend their fallen brother’s funeral services.

In the meantime, squads from East Brunswick, Monroe Township and other communities have volun­teered to cover for the Red and White squad as its members mourn and prepare to attend funeral ser­vices, to be held at 8 a.m. Saturday at Michael Hegarty Funeral Home, Route 9, followed by a Mass at St. Ambrose Roman Catholic Church, Throckmorton Lane.

"All of the area squads have of­fered to help while we’re in mourning," she said. "It’s been amazing."

Members of the nearby South Old Bridge Volunteer Fire Co., a quarter of whose members also belong to the Red and White squad, are also pitching in to help squad members prepare for Dodridge’s funeral, Steinach added.

Like Dodridge, all of the squad’s members have jobs, Steinach said, but all work together to help each other and learn from each other.

Dodridge had recently taken a few of the squad’s younger EMTs under his wing, advising them to sign up for more training and re­ceive continuing education units (CEUs), she noted.

"I know he was encouraging a couple of the younger members that had just become EMTs to earn more CEUs," Steinach said. "I think he had more CEUs than any­one else on the squad."

With most of the other squad members, Dodridge traveled to lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001, to assist New York City rescue workers at ground zero, following the terrorist attacks. Dodridge re­mained there for several days af­terward, Steinach recalled.

"He spent that weekend (after Sept. 11) in New York," she said.

Dodridge also went about the township with fellow squad mem­bers to gather donations of cloth­ing, socks and other supplies for the rescue workers who remained at ground zero in the weeks that fol­lowed, Steinach added.

All flags at municipal buildings were to be flown at half-staff for 14 days, beginning Tuesday in honor of Dodridge’s service, ac­cording to Phillips.

The mayor, Police Chief Thomas Collow and other township offi­cials learned of the two accidents and Dodridge’s passing while at­tending the Township Council’s agenda meeting on Monday night.

"I can’t remember the last time that Old Bridge lost a member of a first aid squad, a police officer or a firefighter in the line of duty," said Phillips, a lifelong township resi­dent.

"Even though Old Bridge has 60,000 people, we’re still a small town. This tragic event is going to cut deep into the heart of the com­munity," he said.

In 2003, the squad answered nearly 800 calls, including nursing home transports, fires, poisonings and motor vehicle accidents, Seminick said. The squad was founded in 1949 and serves approx­imately 20,000 residents in a 15-mile area of South Old Bridge.