Officer Richard Christopher, 32, was driving southbound in the northbound lanes of the Thruway and crashed into a Honda CRV driven by James DeVito, 59, of Airmont. Both drivers were pronounced dead at the scene. The crash backed up traffic for miles and stranded thousands of commuters, according to NBC New York.
No one else was injured in the 7 a.m. wreck and it is unclear why the officer was driving the wrong way, NBC New York reported.
Police are investigating where Officer Christopher was traveling to and from and where he got on the Thruway in the wrong direction. Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas Madison said at a news conference that the area of the Thruway where the crash occurred is clearly marked. Drug and alcohol tests are pending, LOHUD.com wrote.
Officer Christopher was an eight-year veteran of the NYPD who played football at Nyack High School before joining the army. He was stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia, according to LOHUD.com.
The cop was injured in 2010 when he was a passenger involved in a crash with a police car. Officer Christopher was riding with Bernard Bohunicky of West Nyack when Bohunicky, who was drunk at the time, slammed into an Orangetown cruiser, injuring two officers. Bohunicky had been convicted three times of driving while intoxicated and spent three years in state prison after the Orangetown crash, LOHUD.com reported.
DeVito was a chef at Mount St. Mary College in Newburgh and lost his wife in February to cancer. He leaves behind three adult stepchildren and a number of grandchildren, according to LOHUD.com.
Christopher leaves behind his father, stepmother and three siblings, LOHUD.com reported.
Tuesday’s crash was the third wrong-way crash in the area in the past month. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says an estimated 360 people are killed each year in wrong-way collisions on U.S. highways. About 60 percent of those crashes involve alcohol and nearly 80 percent occur between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., according to LOHUD.com.
On July 26, 2009, Diane Schuler was drunk and high when she drove the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway in Mount Pleasant and crashed her minivan into a vehicle driven by Michael Bastardi Sr. The crash killed Schuler, her 2-year-old daughter and three nieces who were all under the age of 9. The crash wreck also claimed the lives of Bastardi, son Guy Bastardi and family friend Daniel Longo, LOHUD.com reported.
The crash is considered to be one of the worst in Westchester County’s history.