NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Opening statements started Monday in the trial of a former Linden, New Jersey police officer charged with driving drunk in a wrong-way crash on Staten Island that killed two passengers, including a fellow police officer, and critically injured a third.
Authorities said the men were headed home from a strip club when Abad drove the wrong way down the West Shore Expressway and crashed head-on into a tractor-trailer. Surveillance footage from a nearby gas station shows the car going the wrong way.
The crash killed Linden Officer Frank Viggiano and Joseph Rodriguez. Abad and another former Linden police officer were seriously injured. The truck driver suffered injuries that weren’t considered life-threatening. The officers were off-duty at the time.
Hours before the crash, Abad had posted a photo on his Instagram page of three shot glasses filled with what he identified as “Jack Daniels Fire on the house.”
Prosecutors said Abad‘s blood-alcohol content was 0.24. That’s more than three times the legal limit.
Abad had two prior DUI charges and dashcam video from one shows him barely able to walk or talk.
But as CBS2’s Ali Bauman reported, Abad disputes that he was driving drunk. He walked into court Monday morning with a hint of a smile as he clutched a Batman backpack.
“It’s important the jury understands just because they say something doesn’t mean it’s actually evidence,” said defense attorney Mario Gallucci.
Gallucci said the prosecution will face an uphill battle when it comes to proving Abad’s blood alcohol level.
“It’s going to be very difficult for them to prove that number for a number of reasons,” he said. “The way the blood alcohol is taken, it was taken for medical purposes. As a result of taking it for medical purposes, they had to go through a number of steps that aren’t done if it was taken for alcohol purposes.”
Gallucci also insisted that prosecutors will not be able to prove his client was behind the wheel.
“I think witnesses will testify here that he was not the driver of that motor vehicle,” he said.
After opening statements, the jury heard testimony from first responders – including a police officer who remembered Abad in the driver’s seat, and an EMT who remembered the smell of alcohol.
Abad stayed silent throughout the proceedings, and spent his lunch break reading a Bible in the back of the courtroom.
As to whether Abad will testify, he attorney said it has not been ruled out – calling it a game decision.
The train is expected to last three weeks. If convicted on the top count, aggravated vehicular homicide, he faces up to 25 years in prison.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)