On January 24, 2023, the Borough of Raritan (Somerset County) paid $450,000 to a couple whose 1-year-old son was killed by a 62-year-old, intoxicated driver who Borough police had only hours before released from custody after having arrested him for heroin possession. The couple claimed that police “knew or should have known [that the driver] . . . was likely to continue operating a motor vehicle while in the possession of, and while under the influence of” alcohol and drugs.

Rosales and her two children, a 1-year-old and a 5-year-old, were pedestrians walking on a public sidewalk on July 7, 2018 when Ronald B. Rebernik, 62, “while under the influence of drugs and/or other intoxicants” lost control of his vehicle and ran over the three of them, according to the court filing. According to a July 17, 2018 Courier News article, “Raritan Borough man charged with killing baby in DUI crash arrested earlier same day on drug charges,” by Nick Muscavage, Rebernik was charged with driving while under the influence and possession of a controlled dangerous substance. Earlier that day, police had found “eight glassine folds of heroin and two knotted plastic bags of crack cocaine” in Rebernik’s possession, according to the article.

Rebernik was sentenced in February 2019 to 15 years in prison on charges of first-degree vehicular homicide and second-degree assault by auto, according to a July 8, 2020 Patch.com article, “Family Of 1-Year-Old Killed In DWI Crash Sues Raritan, Police,” by Alexis Tarrazi. According to that article, Rosales, accompanied by her 5-year-old, was pushing her 1-year-old in a stroller when Rebernik’s 2004 Ford Escape struck two parked cars, left the roadway onto the sidewalk. The 5-year-old suffered a fractured skull, according to the article.

Of the $450,000, $100,000 settled the 5-year-old’s claims. $75,000 of that $100,000 will be held in the Somerset County Surrogate’s trust fund while $25,000 was paid to the family’s lawyer. The only individual named as a defendant was Everett Holt.

The case is captioned Estate of Ortega et al v. Borough of Raritan, Docket No. SOM-L-775-20 and the family’s attorney was Joseph T. Delgado of Plainfield. The civil lawsuit and settlement agreements are on-line here.

None of lawsuit’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the employees or officials named in the lawsuit. All that is known for sure is that Raritan Borough or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the family $450,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases resolve before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]