Accident investigation leaves teen facing charges

Prosecutor: Youth is not responsible for causing crash


Staff Writers

A Freehold Township teenager is due in municipal court on Feb. 21 to answer charges of reckless driving, speeding and violating the guidelines of his provisional driver’s license.

The charges were lodged against William Brennessel, 17, on Feb. 8 after law enforcement authorities completed their investigation of a Jan. 10 motor vehicle accident that claimed the lives of four people on Kozloski Road, Freehold Township.

According to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, Brennessel was issued the summonses in connection with his actions just prior to the deadly collision.

Monmouth County Pros-ecutor Luis A. Valentin said, “The investigation revealed that Brennessel operated his vehicle recklessly and substantially in excess of the posted speed limit.

“Driving in this fashion constitutes a serious and alarming violation of the motor vehicle laws which was exacerbated by Brennessel’s willful failure to adhere to the conditions of his provisional driver’s license. It is important to note that Brennessel is not being charged with causing the tragic fatal motor vehicle collision but rather with his independent conduct prior to the collision,” Velentin said.

Attorney Raymond Raya, of Freehold Borough, represents Brennessel. Raya said he will not contest the charge that Brennessel was violating the guidelines of his provisional driver’s license.

On Feb. 11, Raya said that based on what he knows now, he is prepared to have Brennessel plead not guilty to the reckless driving and speeding charges.

“We don’t feel that the reckless driving charge is justified,” the attorney said.

Raya said he needs to understand exactly how authorities arrived at the conclusion that Brennessel’s vehicle was speeding.

Raya said Brennessel saw the accident in front of him and immediately pulled off the road and called 911 to get help.

“He also cooperated fully with police and he did not leave the scene of the accident,” Raya said. “It is important to note that my client is not being charged with causing this heartbreaking accident. In fact, my client was the first to call 911 and get help for the victims. Will’s first thoughts were for the individuals involved and his deepest sympathy continues to remain with the families and victims of this tragic accident. By the prosecutor’s own admission, Will’s actions in no way caused this accident.”

The investigation revealed that on Jan. 10 at about 2:10 p.m. three vehicles proceeded north on Route 79 from Freehold High School, Freehold Borough, and turned right onto Kozloski Road while in the right lane. Kozloski Road in Freehold Township is a four-lane road with two lanes of travel in each direction. The three vehicles were operated by students from Freehold High School and had left the school just prior to entering Kozloski Road.

The first vehicle was a 2001 Audi TT driven by a 17-year-old male who was the sole occupant of the vehicle. The driver of the Audi turned onto Kozloski Road first and immediately turned right onto East Freehold Road toward his residence. The investigation has not disclosed any evidence of speeding by the driver of the Audi nor was the Audi involved in the subsequent collision, according to Valentin.

The second vehicle was a 2005 Volvo S40 sedan operated by Brennessel and occupied by three passengers, one female age 15 and two females age 14.

The third vehicle was a 2003 Cadillac CTS sedan operated by Michael Dragonetti, 17, of Freehold Township, and occupied by two passengers, James Warnock, 17, and Andrew Lundy, 16, both of Freehold Township.

The passengers in the Volvo and the Cadillac were students at Freehold High School.

According to Valentin, while continuing south on Kozloski Road in the right lane, Brennessel rapidly accelerated his vehicle as it proceeded toward the Dutch Lane Road intersection, which is controlled by a four-way traffic signal. At the time, Dragonetti was also traveling south on Kozloski Road immediately behind Brennessel’s vehicle.

As the two vehicles approached the Dutch Lane Road intersection, Dragonetti moved from behind Brennessel’s vehicle and rapidly accelerated his vehicle while he moved to the left lane. As the two vehicles neared the Dutch Lane Road intersection, Dragonetti’s vehicle passed Brennessel’s vehicle. It was estimated that Brennessel’s vehicle was, at that point, proceeding in excess of 70 mph, and Dragonetti’s vehicle was traveling at an even faster rate of speed. The posted speed limit on Kozloski Road is 50 mph.

Moments later, as the vehicles crossed over Dutch Lane Road and entered a sweeping right curve down a hill, Dragonetti lost control of his vehicle and entered the northbound lane of travel of Kozloski Road. Dragonetti’s vehicle rotated into the northbound lane with the driver’s side of Dragonetti’s vehicle facing an oncoming 1998 Dodge Caravan driven by Ruth MacArthur, 68, of Old Bridge.

Dragonetti’s vehicle collided with the Caravan which was traveling north on Kozloski Road with a 14-year-old student passenger. MacArthur was driving in the appropriate lane and within the posted speed limit, according to Valentin.

As a result of the collision, Dragonetti’s vehicle rotated 180 degrees and came to rest straddling the left and right northbound lanes of Kozloski Road. Dragonetti’s vehicle then erupted into flames, fully involving the passenger compartment. MacArthur’s Caravan was forced back in a southerly direction in the northbound lane of Kozloski Road and eventually came to rest straddling the centerline and left southbound lane.

As a result of the collision, Dragonetti and the two passengers in his vehicle, Warnock and Lundy, along with MacArthur, were killed. The 14-year-old student passenger in MacArthur’s Caravan was treated at a local hospital for injuries sustained and subsequently released.

Subsequent autopsies revealed that Dragonetti’s, Warnock’s and Lundy’s deaths were caused by multiple blunt force injuries directly attributable to the collision and not from the resulting fire. An autopsy conducted on MacArthur concluded that her death was caused by multiple traumatic injuries sustained in the collision. MacArthur’s death was similarly instantaneous and not the consequence of the fire.

The investigation revealed that Brennessel’s vehicle was not directly involved in the collision, but did sustain damage from the debris from the primary collision. Neither Brennessel nor the occupants in his vehicle were injured.

The penalties and fines for each offense Brennessel is charged with, upon conviction, are as follows:

+ Reckless driving – a maximum $200 fine, up to 60 days in a juvenile institution, a discretionary license revocation and five points on a driver’s license.

+ Speeding in excess of 20 mph over the speed limit – a maximum $200 fine, up to 15 days in a juvenile institution, a discretionary license revocation and four points on a driver’s license.

+ Provisional license violation – up to $100 fine, loss of provisional license for three months and postponement of eligibility for a basic driver’s license for an equivalent period of time.

Valentin said a careful and thorough consideration of all of the facts in this case has concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support charging Brennessel with any act of delinquency, such as vehicular homicide. While the evidence demonstrates that both Dragonetti’s and Brennessel’s vehicles were speeding, there is insufficient evidence to prove that they were involved in a “race.”

He further stated, “excessive speed oftentimes plays a significant role in these unfortunate fatalities. We must continue to impress upon our youthful drivers that automobiles can easily become instruments of death when operated at high rates of speed or in an unsafe manner. The law enforcement and educational communities will continue to urge parents to educate their children as to the imperative nature of complying with all motor vehicle laws.”