IN THE NEWS

What are we hiding?

MARK ROSMAN

I have taken my head out of the sand and I would like to invite the Ocean County juvenile court and law enforcement authorities to do the same.

On May 13, 2011, a motor vehicle accident in Lakehurst resulted in the death of two people — James Volpe, 17, of Jackson, who was a member of the Jackson Memorial High School baseball team, and Robert Vallee, 41, of Manchester.

Shortly after the accident, the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office issued a press release that did not name the 17-year-old boy who was driving the vehicle in which Volpe was a passenger. Vallee was alone in a vehicle that was struck by the vehicle being driven by the unnamed 17-year-old.

The 17-year-old was charged with two counts of vehicular homicide, violating New Jersey’s provisional driver law and reckless driving, according to the press release from the prosecutor’s office.

The case was assigned to the Ocean County Juvenile Division of Family Court. Matters involving the case were to be conducted outside the view of the media and the public, according to the press release.

“Since the driver of the vehicle was under the age of 18 at the time of the accident, all charges against him will be heard in the Juvenile Division of Family Court in accordance with the rules governing confidentiality of juvenile defendants,” Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford said in the press release. “After an exhaustive investigation by this office, we found probable cause to file two counts of vehicular homicide against the 17-year-old driver of the vehicle,” the prosecutor said.

Ford said the complaint alleged that the 17-year-old driver operated his vehicle in a reckless manner, at high rates of speed, causing the loss of control of his vehicle.

Although the driver of the vehicle who was charged with the crimes was not identified by name by the prosecutor’s office, he was identified in published reports by the media, including the Tri-Town News, as Alex Daniele, who was Volpe’s teammate on the Jackson Memorial baseball team.

The media is not prohibited from publishing the name of a juvenile who is accused of a crime. We just need to be certain the person we are identifying is the correct individual. To my knowledge, no one ever questioned the accuracy of any published report that named Daniele as the driver of the vehicle that caused the accident.

Obviously, this was an accident that shook Jackson Memorial High School and the Jackson community. In my view, this accident and its tragic outcome should be used as a lesson to teenagers.

I do not like the fact that a fatal accident such as this, which was reported when it occurred and was the subject of so much attention in the community, just faded away.

I never stopped wondering what happened to Daniele. Did he plead guilty? Was there a trial? Was he punished? Was he acquitted? Does anyone care?

As a matter of company policy, the Tri- Town News does not publish information we gather in the pursuit of an article unless we can print the name of the person who provided the information we are reporting. That way, our readers can judge for themselves the credibility of a source of information.

Recently, I learned that the case against Daniele was concluded in the summer of 2012 and there was punishment involved.

Armed with credible information and because the prosecutor’s office was the agency that issued a press release in 2011 stating that a juvenile had been charged with vehicular homicide, I called the prosecutor’s office to ask for on-the-record confirmation regarding the conclusion of the case.

I did not ask the person to whom I spoke at the prosecutor’s office for the juvenile to be named. I only asked what the outcome of the case against him was.

The answer I was given was that it was a juvenile matter and that, while it was permissible for the prosecutor’s office to issue a press release in 2011 stating that a juvenile had been charged with a crime, the prosecutor’s office could not report whether that juvenile pleaded guilty or was found guilty in a trial, and then sentenced, or if that individual was acquitted of the charges that had been lodged against him.

And you wonder why this country is screwed up? It’s screwed up because some adults stick their head in the sand and pretend young people are not doing bad things when, in fact, some young people are doing very bad things. Who are we protecting?

The prosecutor’s office can stand on its “the driver who caused the accident was a juvenile” answer, and the juvenile court can do the same. People in authority can pretend this fatal accident never had consequences.

But this was not a case in which a teenager stole a pack of gum from a convenience store. I am not saying that every misdeed by a juvenile needs to be reported to the public. That would be ridiculous.

However, the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office believed there was enough public interest in this case in 2011 to issue a press release that informed the public that a juvenile had been charged with two counts of vehicular homicide.

I hope that, somehow, the community grapevine has informed the teenagers in Jackson about the outcome of a legal matter that adults are too gutless and afraid to share with them in a public manner (a press release or an interview). The veil of secrecy surrounding this tragedy is unacceptable and I think someone should be willing to go on the record and tell the community there was a price to be paid for an act that killed two innocent people.

Mark Rosman is the managing editor of the Tri-Town News. He may be reached via email at gmntnews@gmnews.com.