Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Michael O'Brien, 49, of Jersey City who was adjusting a bike on his Toyota FJ model SUV parked on the shoulder was hit and killed by a Buick SUV driven by female driver on I-80 west in Rockaway Township, NJ

A fatal fiery two-car crash closed down Route 80 west in Rockaway Township early Tuesday afternoon and a former police officer and Emergency Medical Technician was credited with rescuing the driver and passenger of one of the cars before it burst into flames.

State Police at the Netcong station said that both cars involved in the crash caught fire and one person died. No other information was available.

The crash happened east of Exit 35 in Rockaway Township and briefly closed all lanes of the highway.

Duncan Smythe of Westfield said he was driving west on the highway about 100 yards away when he saw a car swerve off the highway and hit a vehicle on the shoulder. Rudy Palma of Mountainside was a passenger in Smythe's car and saw the crash happen.

Fatal crash on Route 80

"There was a driver adjusting a bike (on the car) when a second car swerved off the highway and struck the car on the shoulder," killing the man who was adjusting the bicycle, he said.

Smyhe said the car that swerved off the road went into the air before it spun and hit the guardrail.

"One car was fully engulfed and the other had flames coming from under the hood," Smythe said. "The driver's door (of the car that ran off the road) wasn't locked, I opened and got the woman who was driving to safety. The passenger was conscious but dazed, he was a little wedged, but I managed to get him out."

Within seconds, both vehicles were engulfed in flame, he said.

"I was in the right place at right time," Smythe said. "I'm glad I was."

Smythe, 55, of Westfield, said he was a police officer in Bridgewater during the late 1970's and 1980's and was an EMT on the Westfield Rescue squad for 25 years. He is currently a realtor.

By 1:43 p.m., the state DOT reported that two of four westbound lanes were open and drivers should use an alternate route. As of 2 p.m., westbound delays snowballed to 45 to 50 minutes.

There have been 252 fatal crashes in the state which have resulted in 268 fatalities so far in 2017, said State Police statistics.


One man was killed and one woman was critically injured in a fiery crash on Route 80 Tuesday in Rockaway Township when another vehicle hit the man while he was parked in the shoulder of the highway, according to a New Jersey State Police update.

Submitted photos of a fatal accident on westbound Route 80 in Rockaway Township, occurring at noon on July 4, 2017. (Photo: Submitted photos)

Submitted photos of a fatal accident on westbound Route 80 in Rockaway Township, occurring at noon on July 4, 2017. (Photo: Submitted photo)

Trooper Lawrence Peele previously confirmed a single fatality following a crash at noon on westbound Route 80 at mile marker 35.4, near the exit for Mount Hope Road and Rockaway Townsquare mall.

Peele later identified the deceased as Michael O'Brien, 49, of Jersey City. According to Peele, O'Brien had parked his Toyota FJ model SUV in the right shoulder and had exited the vehicle, possibly to tend to cargo, when a Buick SUV traveled into the right shoulder, hitting O'Brien and his Toyota.

Photos from the scene show both vehicles in flames, with witnesses reported that the smoke could be seen as far away as Dover.

The driver and a front-seat passenger in the Buick sustained minor injuries. A female passenger in the back seat sustained critical injuries, and was taken by ambulance to Morristown Medical Center, where she was still listed in critical condition.

The occupants of the Buick were not identified in the update.The accident, which closed two lanes of Route 80 for about four hours, is still under investigation