A Newark, New Jersey police officer is facing a litany of charges after prosecutors say he struck a pedestrian, left the scene, returned to claim the victim’s dead body, and took the body home with the help of a passenger in his vehicle. The officer’s father, who is a Newark Police lieutenant, is the one who called 911 to report what happened, according to the county prosecutor’s office.
Newark Police Officer Louis Santiago, 25, of Bloomfield is charged with reckless vehicular homicide, desecrating human remains, and “related charges,” Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens, II wrote on Facebook. Santiago was off duty when the collision happened, Stephens said.
Also charged was Albert Guzman, 25, of Newark, who was a passenger in Santiago’s car when Santiago allegedly struck and killed the pedestrian. Further charged was Annette Santiago, 53, of Bloomfield, who is Louis Santiago’s mother. The mother and Guzman are both accused of “conspiracy to desecrate human remains, hindering apprehension, and conspiracy to hinder apprehension and tamper with physical evidence,” Stephens wrote.
The prosecutor’s office provided the following narrative of what allegedly occurred:
The preliminary investigation indicates that on Nov. 1, 2021, around 3:00 am a 2005 Honda Accord driven by Santiago, who was off duty, was traveling northbound on the Garden State Parkway, near exit 151. Santiago failed to maintain his lane and traveled on the right shoulder of the Garden State Parkway striking Damian Z. Dymka, a 29- year-old nurse from Garfield in Bergen County.
It is alleged that after striking the victim, neither Santiago nor Guzman called 911 or rendered aid but returned to the scene multiple times before Santiago loaded the victim into the Honda and removed him from the scene. Santiago then took the body to his home in Bloomfield where he, his mother and Guzman allegedly discussed what to do with the body. Eventually, Santiago went back to the scene.
Santiago’s father, who is a lieutenant in the Newark Police Department, called 911 and reported that his son was in an accident. When the New Jersey State Police arrived, the victim was dead in the back seat of the car.
Louis Santiago’s additional charges include leaving the scene of a crash resulting in death, endangering an injured victim, desecrating/moving human remains, hindering one’s own apprehension, conspiracy to hinder prosecution, tampering with physical evidence, obstructing the administration of law, and two counts of official misconduct, prosecutors said.
“All three defendants have been arrested, charged, and released with conditions,” the prosecutor went on.
“These are accusations,” the prosecutor’s office then warned. “All defendants are presumed innocent unless and until they enter a guilty plea or are found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.”
Jail records indicate that Louis Santiago was booked into the Essex County, N.J. jail on Nov. 23 and was released on Nov. 24 at 5:58 p.m. He was listed as a “college freshman” in online jail records. The prosecutor’s office eventually disseminated the same mugshot contained in online jail records.
Patrick P. Toscano Jr., who is Louis Santiago’s lawyer, told the New York Times that the police department has since suspended Louis Santiago.
“We believe he has been tremendously overcharged here,” Toscano told the newspaper. “There is maybe probable cause for two or three charges, certainly not 12 or 13.”
The defense attorney also said he has “seen no evidence” of the “allegation” that Louis Santiago “went to his house and talked to his mother.”
According to Toscano’s version of the events, his client was driving to meet up with a friend after work. Dymka was allegedly walking against the flow of traffic on the highway while wearing a werewolf costume.
Dymka was struck in the early morning hours hours following Halloween night — perhaps explaining the costume.
Toscano said his client was charged on Nov. 18. Toscano added that his client’s mother has not yet retained an attorney.
Dennis Carletta, who the Times said is representing Guzman, did not respond to messages from the newspaper on Thursday.
Katherine Carter, a spokesperson for Stephens’ office, told the Times that Dymka died of blunt force trauma. She said there was “not a basis” to file any charges against the father who called 911 to report the incident.
Read the prosecutor’s press release below:
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