An Elizabeth cop who caused the death of a motorcyclist while driving drunk in October looks to be out of a job and headed to jail for a year.
The recommended sentence and plea deal Romulo Meneses-Alvarez agreed to Monday in Union County Superior Court likely means he’s escaped what could have been a prison term of at least several years.
Meneses-Alvarez, 30, of Elizabeth, admitted he caused the death of Jairo Lozano, 29, of Elizabeth, on Oct. 31, 2017, according to the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office.
The off-duty officer was under the influence of alcohol when his Jeep Wrangler turned left in front of Lozano’s motorcycle on Elmora Avenue in Elizabeth, causing the collision.
Meneses-Alvarez pleaded guilty Monday to strict liability vehicular homicide in the third degree, tampering with physical evidence in the fourth degree, and driving while intoxicated as part of the plea agreement.
When he is sentenced July 13, Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutor Keith Abrams will recommend Meneses-Alvarez serve 364 days in county jail as a condition of probation, according the Middlesex prosecutor’s office. (Middlesex prosecuted the case due to an undisclosed conflict of interest with the Union County Prosecutor’s Office.)
Meneses-Alvarez also agreed to give up his job with Elizabeth Police Department, from which he’s been suspended without pay. The prosecutor’s office also said he will lose his license for one year for the drunk driving conviction. A spokeswoman for the prosecutor said the judge will decide the length of the probation term.
Many details of the Halloween crash and the investigation remain unclear, but police documents and indictments allege that Meneses-Alvarez left the scene after the crash and hindered the investigation by preventing police from checking out his Jeep Wrangler.
After the Jeep and the 2005 GSX Suzuki motorcycle collided, Lozano was taken to Trinitas Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
A police narrative in court documents said Meneses-Alvarez gave his information to police at the scene but then left.
Joshua McMahon, an attorney for Lozano’s family, said a witness and body camera footage revealed that another Elizabeth police officer told Meneses-Alvarez to leave. NJ Advance Media was unable to confirm this because a records request for the video footage was denied.
A grand jury returned seven indictments against Meneses-Alvarez in April, making reference to him leaving the scene and not returning. He was indicted for hindering for allegedly lying to an officer when he said he was returning to the crime scene, one indictment said. Another indictment claimed there was evidence he tried to tamper with evidence by altering, destroying, concealing or removing his Jeep during the investigation.
The criminal complaint said that police got a warrant to take a blood sample from Meneses-Alvarez and he was taken to the hospital several hours later. The complaint did not say where officers located him.
All but three of the charges were dismissed as part of the plea agreement, including a first-degree vehicular homicide within 1,000 feet of a school, which could have meant a double-digit prison sentence if he was convicted.
McMahon said that Meneses-Alvarez admitted in court Monday that he was drinking at Central Park, a bar in Roselle, before the crash.
Central Park was one of two bars where former Linden cop Pedro Abad was drinking in 2015 before he drove the wrong way on a highway leading to a head-on crash that killed two fellow officers. He was sentenced to 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison a year ago.
“The family was heartened to hear the Defendant take responsibility, and appreciates the efforts of the Middlesex County Assistant Prosecutors to facilitate this negotiated resolution,” McMahon said. “That said, given what has happened here as well as the Abad incident, we intend, through the civil arena, to fully explore the role that Central Park bartenders played in this Defendant committing another off-duty, drinking-related homicide.”