New Jersey Faces Challenge of Keeping Addicts Off the Roads

New Brunswick, NJ – A South Jersey man’s recent crash into an apartment building, which displaced three families just before the holidays, has brought to light the ongoing struggle of preventing addicts from getting behind the wheel.

The driver, now accused of drug possession and driving under the influence, has a decade-long history of driving offenses. This incident underscores the delicate balance New Jersey faces in dealing with repeat offenders who struggle with addiction.

A Close Call

Late one November night in 2023, Maria Zavala and her twin second-grade boys were asleep when a loud crash jolted them awake. Initially fearing an earthquake, Zavala discovered a pickup truck had slammed into the side of their apartment building, knocking out power and shifting the structure off its foundation. Thankfully, no one was injured.

The police report revealed the truck had crossed the center line, hit a utility pole, and crashed into the apartment building while traveling at 60 mph in a 35-mph zone. Zavala credits the utility pole with preventing a more severe outcome. “That pole basically saved our lives, saved my kids’ lives potentially,” she said.

Body camera footage from the scene shows officers and neighbors rushing to help. The driver, confused and unresponsive, resisted officers’ attempts to assist him, leading to a brief struggle before he was taken into custody.

A Repeat Offender

Property owner Alex Smith recalled the chaos of that night, her relief that everyone was safe quickly turning to frustration upon learning of the driver’s extensive record. “This was the step before killing somebody, really,” Smith said.

The police report noted the driver’s frequent narcotics use, and court records show nearly 50 driving violations over the past decade, most resulting in either dismissals or fines. On the night of the crash, officers found 36 bags of suspected heroin, four used bags, and six vials of suspected crack cocaine in his possession.

One officer expressed frustration, saying, “Seriously, like how many [expletive] times is he going to get away with this [expletive]?” The driver had just been released from a DUI arrest a week earlier.

Zavala’s initial concern for the driver turned to disappointment when she learned of his past offenses. “I was very disappointed to find out the next day he was out like it was nothing,” she said.

Addressing the System

Richard Klineburger, a New Jersey criminal defense attorney with 25 years of experience, explained that repeat traffic offenses, even with known substance abuse, rarely result in jail time or license revocation unless multiple DUIs are involved. “A lot more of the courts are gearing their reaction to someone like this toward a recovery system,” he said.

Project S.A.V.E.: Tackling the Root Cause

In Camden County, Project S.A.V.E. (Substance Abuse Visionary Effort) aims to break the cycle of substance abuse and criminal behavior by providing treatment instead of incarceration. Since its inception in 2019, 31% of the 2,995 participants have completed the program, 50% remain engaged, and 19% dropped out.

Felicia Buzard, a participant, shared her story of transformation. Addicted to drugs and facing jail time after her third DUI in 2019, she was given a chance at treatment through Project S.A.V.E. “They removed Braylee [her daughter] from me, but during that time, it gave me time to grow and heal,” Buzard said. She eventually regained custody of her daughter and now works in the Camden County Health Department while studying to become a social worker.

Buzard’s success story highlights the potential of recovery programs. “I didn’t know how to function without substances,” she said. Her journey from addiction to a stable life offers hope to others struggling with similar issues, emphasizing the importance of providing opportunities for treatment and recovery.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top