As reported by nj.com, the State Police trooper who killed two teenage sisters in a 2006 Cape May County car crash should not collect more than two years of salary he lost while awaiting trial, an administrative judge recommended yesterday.
The trooper, Robert Higbee, was suspended without pay for 27 months and 12 days before being acquitted of vehicular homicide charges. Administrative Law Judge Bruce Gorman recommended an equivalent suspension, which would effectively prevent him from recouping back pay. However, he said Higbee did not need to be fired.
“Nothing can be gained from terminating the professional life of a potentially valuable public servant,” Gorman wrote. “At the same time, due to the totality of the circumstances of this case, it would be wrong to allow (Higbee) to benefit from this tragedy by paying him public funds for work he did not perform. In light of all the circumstances, such a result would be shocking to a fundamental sense of fairness and contrary to the public interest.” He also wrote, “(Higbee) committed a fundamental breach of duty by failing to familiarize himself with the area he was patrolling.”
Gorman’s ruling goes to State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes, whose decision can be appealed in state court. Fuentes’ decision is due in 45 days. Higbee’s lawyer said he will urge Fuentes to disregard the judge’s recommendation.
David Jones, president of the State Troopers Fraternal Association, said there’s no precedent for the lengthy suspension the judge recommended. He said it’s based on a flawed understanding of the case. “It’s inconsistent with the transcript, it’s inconsistent with the trial facts, it’s inconsistent with the exhaustive expert testimony,” he said.
Higbee was on duty in his marked troop car when he ran a stop sign while chasing a speeder in Upper Township, Cape May County. His flashing lights and sirens were off because he was “closing the gap” with his target, which he asserts is correct police procedure.
While crossing the intersection, he slammed into a minivan driven by 17-year old Jacqueline Becker. Both Becker and her sister, Christina, 19, who was in the passenger seat, were killed. The following year Higbee was indicted for vehicular homicide, but a jury acquitted him in 2009. Last year, Fuentes fild disciplinary charges against Higbee, saying he had performed his duties in a “culpably inefficient manner” by running the stop sign.
Higbee, 38, is currently on duty in the Atlantic City Casino Investigations Unit.