A fire department official places bunting under the police department sign at the Waldwick Public Safety Building in Waldwick, N.J. on Thursday, July 17, 2014 in memory of Police Officer Christopher Goodell, with Memorial Day wreaths already in place. Goodell, 32, was killed in his unmarked police car on the shoulder of Rt. 17 South when it was hit by a tractor-trailer earlier in the day. (AP Photo/Northjersey.com, Kevin R. Wexler)
WALDWICK, N.J. (AP) — A police officer checking for speeders was killed when a tractor-trailer that didn’t try to stop rear-ended his parked car on a highway shoulder early Thursday, making him the second officer to die in the line of duty in the state this week, prosecutors said.
Officer Christopher Goodell was operating radar on Route 17 at about 1:30 a.m. when the truck went onto the shoulder and struck his unmarked car, pushing it into a retaining wall, Bergen County prosecutor John Molinelli said.
Goodell, who grew up in Waldwick and was a Marine Corps veteran, was pronounced dead at the scene. The 32-year-old was a five-year veteran of the police force.
Police Chief Mark Messner called him an outstanding person and an outstanding officer.
“He loved his country,” Messner said. “He loved his town. He loved his police department. He leaves behind his family and a young fiancee.”
The truck driver, Ryon Cumberbatch, was uninjured and called 911, Molinelli said. There was no roadway evidence Cumberbatch tried to stop, he said.
Cumberbatch, of New York, was charged with vehicular homicide and is scheduled to appear in court Monday. He was held on $25,000 bail and couldn’t be reached for comment late Thursday. There was no telephone number listed for him at the Brooklyn address provided by prosecutors.
It’s unknown why the 18-wheel truck went onto the shoulder. The trailer was half-full and carrying produce, prosecutors said.
Goodell was remembered by Waldwick residents as an upbeat person who loved his town, an upscale suburb about 25 miles northwest of New York.
Waldwick High School principal Kevin Carroll said Goodell, a 2000 graduate, regularly gave talks to classes and participated in the school’s drunken-driving simulation class.
“He always wanted to give back to the community, and that’s what he did over the last five years,” Carroll said.
Local business owner Gregg Burke, whose liquor store faces the police station from across a downtown street, recalled Goodell’s sunny disposition.
“He was an incredibly nice person, no bravado to him,” Burke said. “Just a nice, easygoing guy. It’s a damn shame, it really is.”
The truck, with its hazard lights blinking, had come to a stop on a grassy strip between the road shoulder and a raised backyard. Its cab was at a 90-degree angle from the rest of the truck and had smashed into a white picket fence and stone wall. Fencing and rocks were strewn along the highway.
Nearby resident Brendon Shim heard what he thought were three loud thunderclaps. He said he would often see an unmarked police car in the area to catch speeders.
“At night it’s crazy dangerous out here for speeding,” he said. “I can hear the sound of motorcycle engines coming by all the time.”
The accident happened just days after Jersey City police Officer Melvin Santiago, a 23-year-old rookie, was slain outside a drugstore in what authorities say was an ambush.
Molinelli said police officers “face dangers every single day.”
“We saw what happened in Jersey City,” he said. “We saw what happened to a Bergen County police officer a couple of months ago. Danger faces these police officers at any moment.”