Driver was going 113 mph just before fatal DWI crash, prosecutor says

Submitted by New Jersey DWI Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

A man charged in a fatal drunken driving accident in Salem County was traveling at 113 mph moments before the crash, a prosecutor said in court Wednesday.

Stephen M. Karwowski, 30, of Pittsgrove Township, is charged with first-degree aggravated manslaughter, second-degree vehicular homicide and fourth-degree assault by auto in the Dec. 4, 2021, crash that killed Genita Townsend, 52, of Pennsville Township.

The criminal charges were filed last week following an investigation.

Karwowski was driving a pickup truck north on Route 49/South Broadway in Pennsville shortly before 6 p.m. when his vehicle struck the passenger side of Townsend’s car as she made a left turn from southbound Route 49 into a restaurant parking lot.

She was pronounced dead at the scene.

An analysis of the data recorder in Karwowski’s truck revealed he was traveling at 113 mph 3.5 seconds before the crash and 70 mph at the moment of impact, Salem County Assistant Prosecutor Geoffrey Gleason said during the hearing.

The posted speed limit is 40 mph.

A witness told investigators Karwowski’s vehicle passed him on the shoulder before the crash and that he was traveling at 80 or 90 mph, while another witness estimated his speed at 70 mph, authorities said.

Karwowski admitted to driving 60 to 65 mph before the crash and told police he had consumed a few beers that afternoon while setting up for a party, Gleason said.

A police officer reported smelling alcohol on his breath and noted that his eyes were watery and bloodshot, and his speech slow and slurred, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

Karwowski’s blood alcohol level was measured at 0.122%, above the legal limit of 0.08%.

He was issued motor vehicle summonses for driving under the influence, reckless driving, improper passing and failure to maintain lane.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Hark challenged probable cause for the aggravated manslaughter charge, arguing that Townsend was responsible for the crash because she made a left in front of oncoming traffic “without making due observation prior to commencing her turn.”

“There is no question of material fact that the victim made a left turn and crossed the double-yellow line and caused this crash,” Hark said. “There’s a substantial question regarding probable cause as to whether Mr. Karwowski is that substantial contributing factor or it was the victim who crossed traffic at the time of this crash.”

A driver waiting to make a safe turn wouldn’t expect to encounter an oncoming vehicle traveling at this speed, Gleason responded.

“I’ve never seen a car coming at 113 mph towards me. I can imagine that any person on the road in a 40 mph zone wouldn’t be believing that someone’s driving that fast,” Gleason said. “In terms of blaming the victim … I don’t see it, however, that can be argued at trial.”

To find probable cause for the aggravated manslaughter charge, the defendant must “recklessly cause death under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life,” Superior Court Judge Linda Lawhun noted. Based on the details provided in court, she found that the state had made its case for bringing the charge.

The judge rejected a prosecution motion that Karwowski be jailed pending trial.

Gleason argued that he posed a danger to the public if he were to drive while impaired in the future. Hark challenged that notion by questioning why the prosecutor’s office didn’t charge him with criminal offenses and seek his detention immediately after the crash if they feared he was a danger to others.

Karwowski has no criminal record, maintains a job and took responsibility for his actions after the crash, Hark said, adding that he has faced no additional charges since the crash and won’t skip court appearances.

In ordering Karwowski’s release, Lawhun cited legal precedent that a defendant cannot be held solely based on the current charges, and his clean record offered no other grounds for detaining him.

Under release conditions, Karwowski must report to court officials two times a month, refrain from excessive alcohol consumption and not rack up any additional criminal charges or moving violations, including speeding, the judge note

His next court date is May 12 for a pre-indictment hearing.

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Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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