City Fire Director Was Behind Wheel Of Municipal Vehicle

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A 14-year-old New Brunswick, N.J. girl was in critical condition Tuesday night in an accident that also injured two other children – the youngest just 6 years old.

As CBS 2’s Don Champion reported, they were all hit by a municipal vehicle driven by the city fire director.

The children were on their way home from school and using a crosswalk when the accident happened just around 3:40 p.m. on Livingston Avenue near Delavan Street. The children — two 14-year-old girls and a 6-year-old boy — were crossing Livingston Avenue at the time, Joe Biermann reported from Chopper 2.

Neighbors said they are frustrated and angry because of the accident, and said it was proof of a problem they have long complained about.

A cellphone video from a witness shows the scene after the accident. Screams were heard in the video amid a desperate effort to attend to the injured children.

According to the acting Middlesex County prosecutor, the driver of the SUV was New Brunswick Fire Director Robert Rawls, who stayed on the scene following the accident, 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported.

Rawls, 56, was on duty and driving a city-owned 2010 Chevrolet Tahoe. He immediately called authorities, prosecutors said.

A witness, Jay, was shocked at the accident.

“It’s heartbreaking, because I have two stepchildren of my own, and you know, if that happened to one of them, I’d be going crazy,” Jay said.

The children were headed home from the nearby Livingston School when the accident happened. Neighbors said the street where they were crossing is notoriously dangerous for pedestrians; one reason they recently lobbied for a dedicated crossing guard.

“They don’t stop,” said Claudia Garcia. “Me and my co-worker Denise will literally stand there like 10, 15 minutes trying to cross the street and nobody stops.”

Ruth Garcia also told 1010 WINS’ Al Jones said she wasn’t surprised someone was struck at the intersection.

“Nope, they fly through here,” she said.

Garcia added that at 3:30 p.m., there should have been a crossing guard at the busy intersection.

“She’s never here in the mornings. She’s never here in the afternoons. I said it one day, somebody’s gonna get killed one day and nobody believes me,” Garcia said.

The children were taken to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, where one girl was listed in critical condition and the other in “stable” condition, prosecutors said. The boy suffered a minor injury.

The SUV was towed away around 5 p.m. Debris could be seen in the middle of the intersection, including several pairs of sneakers and what appeared to be a book bag.

Family members told CBS 2 one of the children hit was Josalyn Peleaz, 14. Her uncle, who did not want to be identified, said his niece was being treated for broken bones.

“She’s in a lot of pain, a lot of pain — and what can I say?” the uncle said.

As of late Tuesday night, Rawls was not facing any charges. But investigators were looking into whether factors like speed played a role in the accident.

“We want something to do at that street, because every four months or six months it’s every time they have an accident there,” Josalyn’s uncle said.

Neighbors said they plan to go to a New Brunswick City Council meeting on Wednesday to demand that something be done at the crosswalk where the accident happened.

Anyone with information was asked to call Investigator Jeffrey Temple of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, at (732) 745-3373.

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