Driver May Have Deliberately Crashed into Mass. State Police Trooper’s Cruiser
The possibility is part of the MSP’s wide-ranging probe into the crash that killed Trooper Thomas Clardy, who was laid to rest Tuesday.
Update, March 28, 4 p.m.: Massachusetts State Police spokesman David Procopio shared in a statement Monday afternoon that David Njuguna was discharged from UMass Medical Center last week and is scheduled to appear April 27 in Dudley District Court for a show-cause hearing, where the MSP will ask the court that he be formally charged with negligent operation of a motor vehicle, failure to stay within marked lanes, and speeding. The statement also mentions that the investigation is ongoing, the results of which will determine if further charges will be sought.
Investigators reconstructing a fatal crash that killed a Massachusetts State Trooper are probing the possibility that the driver deliberately slammed his car into the cruiser at the side of the Massachusetts Turnpike in Charlton, according to multiple law enforcement sources.
Several witnesses—including a police officer—described seeing a Nissan Maxima veer across three lanes of traffic and then steady itself in the breakdown lane before plowing into the rear of the cruiser on March 16, said two law enforcement officials with direct knowledge of the investigation.
Those same law enforcement sources also said that the driver, David Njuguna, 30, broke both wrists in the crash, which could be an indicator that he held fast to the steering wheel as the car careened into the Ford Explorer SUV where Trooper Thomas Clardy was sitting. There were no skid marks indicating that he ever tried to stop the vehicle.
Massachusetts State Police spokesman David Procopio says that possibility is part of the department’s wide-ranging probe, which is being conducted by investigators in Troop E, the State Police Crime Scene Services Section, the State Police Collision Analysis Reconstruction team, and a special unit assigned to the Worcester County District Attorney’s office made up of troopers who investigate homicide cases. Officers are also investigating other possibilities, including texting, impairment, or just reckless driving. On March 15, the day before the crash, Njuguna complained on his Facebook page that he had trouble sleeping, writing, “Couldn’t get enough sleep, even my medication is not working.”
According to Procopio, “The investigation into the crash that killed Trooper Clardy, including what caused the defendant to veer across all lanes of traffic and strike the trooper’s cruiser at a high rate of speed, remains active. To date, we have not ruled out any possible causes or contributing factors. We will follow the evidence wherever it leads.”
Multiple law enforcement sources have confirmed that prosecutors in the Worcester County DA’s Office have obtained a search warrant for the Event Data Recorder “or black box” inside the Nissan Maxima driven by Njuguna, which can determine, among other things, how far the accelerator pedal was pressed, whether the driver was wearing a seatbelt, and whether the brakes were ever applied. In 2011, the black box in then-Lt. Gov. Tim Murray’s car helped investigators determine he was driving more than 100 miles per hour without a seatbelt when he totaled his state-issued vehicle on the Massachusetts Turnpike.
One of Njuguna’s family members confirmed to the Boston Globe that Njuguna suffered a concussion, broke both wrists and suffered a thigh injury in the fatal collision. The relative, who asked not to be named, said Njuguna didn’t remember any details about the crash. A spokesperson for UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, where Njuguna was airlifted after the crash, said he is not authorized to release any information about the driver’s condition. Attempts to reach his family for comment were unsuccessful.
The deadly crash took place in the minutes after Clardy climbed behind the wheel of his SUV cruiser to process a motor vehicle stop he made around noon when, according to State Police Colonel Richard McKeon, “the Maxima suddenly swerved to the right, crossed all three travel lanes, and, without slowing, struck the rear of Trooper Clardy’s cruiser with the trooper inside.”
Clardy, 44, was pronounced dead at UMass Medical Center after a desperate attempt by first responders at the scene to save his life. He’d been in the US Marine Corps before joining the State Police, where he served for the past 11 years.
Njuguna, who lives in Webster, had his license suspended for 180 days in October 2013 when he refused to take a breathalyzer test after being stopped by police in Oxford, according to Registry of Motor Vehicles records. His license was reinstated in June 2014 after he paid a fee, and it was valid at the time of Wednesday’s crash, according to the records. Three years ago Njuguna penned a Facebook post that read, “Just did 160 mph from Springfield to Webster in 25 minutes, good thing I wasn’t pulled over, i’m never ever going to do that again … Y.O.L.O ….”
It’s unclear how fast Njuguna was driving the night he struck Clardy, but McKeon said the “tremendous impact” from Njuguna’s Maxima sent the cruiser careening into the vehicle he had pulled over and into the grassy side of the highway. The driver of the pulled over car, whom state police officials said was a college student, was not hurt and neither were his two passengers.
Family members have visited Njuguna in the hospital and one told reporters that Njuguna is “very confused” about the accident. “He was able to speak, but not coherently,” one relative, who asked not to be identified for fear of a negative backlash, told the Globe. “He still doesn’t know or even have a recollection of what happened.”
Njuguna’s family released a statement saying they “would like to send a message of condolence and deepest sympathies to the family of the fallen Massachusetts State Trooper. The family is devastated by the death of the dedicated trooper and proud father who lost his life making all of us safe. His family is in our prayers.”
Clardy was laid to rest on Tuesday.