Hampton man pleads guilty in 2019 fatal Lafayette car crash

A Hampton man pleaded guilty to causing a 2019 car crash in Lafayette that killed two Sussex County residents, avoiding a potential trial that would have started in a month.

Joseph Crilley’s trial was scheduled for Sept. 5 but his attorney, Jeff Patti, and Assistant Prosecutor Sahil Kabse reached a plea agreement. He faces up to a maximum of 21-and-a-half years in prison.

Crilley pleaded guilty to two counts of vehicular manslaughter, one count of assault by auto and one count of reckless driving before Sussex County Superior Court Judge Michael Gaus on Friday. He was initially charged with two counts of death by auto in addition to other charges.

The prosecution is recommending Crilley be sentenced to five years a piece for the assault by auto charges, which would run consecutively. Because of the No Early Release Act, Crilley would have to serve 85% of his sentence before he is eligible for parole.

In addition, the prosecution recommended 18 months in prison for the assault by auto charge and 60 days for the reckless driving charges, both to run concurrently with the other two charges.

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During the hearing, Patti asked Crilley a series of questions about what happened the day of the crash. Crilley admitted to using heroin and fentanyl prior to driving the tow truck he used for his job on Aug. 5, 2019. He said he knows that taking the drugs impaired his ability to drive safely.

Crilley said he was returning to the towing yard from a crash in Sparta towing two cars when he crashed into a Honda Civic hatchback on Route 94 around 10:30 p.m. The impact pushed the Honda forward close to 210 feet and it was partially trapped under the tow truck.

During a motion to suppress evidence prior to the plea agreement, Gaus referenced police testimony and said the Isuzi tow truck was “speeding, crossed the double yellow lines and crushed the (Honda) with horrifying force.”

The driver of the Honda, James Ziniewicz, 43, of Newton, died at the scene. A back-seat passenger, Bassirou Diante, 33, of Hamburg, died 26 days after the crash due to his injuries. Another passenger inside the Honda suffered injuries to her face, hip and leg, and lost one of her eyes.

Crilley had previously tried to argue that the truck’s braking system failed but prosecutors said an inspection showed the breaks to be working correctly.

Crilley is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 9 at 9 a.m.

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Sussex County driver pleads guilty in fatal Lafayette crash

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