NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A New Jersey police officer has been sentenced to three years in prison on charges related to a high-speed crash that left his colleague dead.
In August 2008, Lt. Keith Buckley of the North Brunswick Police Department rented a Dodge Viper on his lunch break and asked fellow officer Christopher Zerby to come along for a ride.
Zerby, a married father of two, was killed after the vehicle crashed into a pole.
“He didn’t even see his 4-year-old son learn to ride a bike. Instead, a neighbor of mine was kind enough to teach him as I watched in tears knowing it was the first of many special moments he would miss,” Christine Zerby said at sentencing Thursday. “No mother should have to sit her 4- and 7-year-old sons down and look into their sweet, innocent faces and tell this heartbreaking news that their father is dead.”
Zerby’s wife said Buckley was speeding, traveling at 94 mph.
“Why were you driving a rented Dodge Viper around North Brunswick that day while you were on duty? A car that belongs on the race track, not residential roads. Why weren’t you doing your job?” she asked Buckley in court at his sentencing Thursday.
“All I see now is him in a casket,” Zerby’s mother, Sally, said. “No parent should ever have to bury a child.”
Buckley was in tears as he was sentenced, CBS 2’s Christine Sloan reported.
“I went from police officer to criminal in a matter of seconds,” he said in court.
Buckley, represented by high-powered attorney Alan Ziegas, told the family he was sorry.
“I am not a monster; I never intended to get into an accident or for Chris to get injured or die. If I could turn time back and change the outcome, I certainly would,” Buckley said.
Buckley, who was on duty at the time of the incident, was initially charged with vehicular manslaughter, but pleaded guilty last year to official misconduct in exchange for lesser time.
He denies that he was speeding and said he just wasn’t experienced with driving a high-performance car, Sloan reported.
“I will never again be the same husband, father, brother or son and my career and reputation are gone forever,” Buckley said. “My own conduct, coupled with Chris not wearing a seat belt, was a recipe for tragedy.”
The judge told Buckley the only reason he was giving him the three-year sentence was because he was obligated to do so under law because of the plea deal.
“We have somebody who spent a career giving people tickets,” the judge said. “What you went out an did, it says to me that there’s arrogance.”
As part of the deal, Buckley must resign from the police force and give up his right to hold a public job. He also loses his police pension.
He has been suspended without pay since 2008.
Buckley will be eligible for parole in two years.
Zerby’s family is also suing Buckley and other agencies, Sloan reported.
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