According to North Bergen Police Capt. Gary Richmond, who oversees the department's traffic patrol, Alexis Torres, a 19-year-old former North Bergen resident and graduate of North Bergen High School, was driving with Rebeka Verea, 18, in the passenger seat of his uncle's Mercedes Benz. At 74th Street and West Side Avenue, the car collided with a tractor trailer, severing the roof of the car and killing Verea instantly, just hours after she had graduated from Cliffside Park High.
The car struck the rear end of the tractor trailer as it was turning from the northern bound lanes of West Side Avenue into a parking lot at 74th Street, Richmond said.
Torres remains in stable condition in the Jersey City Medical Center with an assortment of injuries suffered in the crash.
Torres was not wearing his seat belt and was thrown from the car upon impact, Richmond said. Verea, the daughter of Dr. Jorge Verea, the chief medical officer for the North Hudson Community Action Corporation and a renowned community health advocate, was wearing her seat belt, but according to Richmond, who arrived at the scene soon after the 11 p.m. crash, she didn't stand a chance of survival.
"There were no skid marks at the scene, so the car didn't have a chance to brake," Richmond said. "It was very, very bad, one of the worst scenes I've witnessed since I took over the traffic department [in 1992]. She was dead at the scene. It was a tragedy."
It is believed that the two were returning from a graduation party when the accident occurred.
Police are investigating to determine whether Torres was driving at a high rate of speed. They are also awaiting the official toxicology report to determine whether Torres, now a resident of Fair Lawn, was drinking at the time of the accident and whether he will be charged with a crime.
Torres could face vehicular manslaughter charges if there is evidence is against him.
"Blood was drawn," Richmond said. "We're waiting for the results."
Richmond said that the expensive high-powered Mercedes, with a 453 horsepower engine, could go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4 seconds, thus the reason for the vicious impact. Torres had been driving on West Side Avenue for only nine blocks.
"It was a horrible thing," Richmond said. "Especially when you have kids of your own. I have a 14-year-old son, and I fear things like this happening. A life is lost, all because of speed."
Campaign to help
Verea was a beautiful, ambitious young lady who was scheduled to begin classes at a medical training school next month.
Her loss has spurred her family to form the Rebeka Verea Foundation, already announcing its first event, a campaign to address safe driving for young people, which will be held at the Rockleigh Country Club in Rockleigh, N.J. on July 10.
The Rebeka Verea Foundation was established by Dr. Verea and his wife Lourdes just last Tuesday - eight days after Rebeka's tragic death - to address the issue of safe driving with teens in an effort to prevent such a tragedy happening to anyone else.
The foundation will also raise funds to help support safety changes on roads like West Side Avenue, along with outreach and educational programs.
"Hopefully, one precious life lost will save many," Verea said in a press release about the inception of the Rebeka Verea Foundation last week.
Meanwhile, there was another bizarre twist to the horrific tragedy.
Rich Velazquez, the 21-year-old boyfriend of Rebeka Verea, and his twin brother Eddie, both of whom are employees of the North Bergen Department of Public Works, were suspended for five days without pay because they didn't show up for work the day after the accident took place.
Velazquez apparently went to the scene of the accident because he was supposed to meet his girlfriend after the party she attended with her friend Torres.
After the accident, both Velazquez brothers spent the evening with the Verea family and didn't think to call into the DPW when their shifts were supposed to begin the next morning at 7 a.m.
Rich Velazquez apparently received a phone call from a superior later that day, asking him why he didn't show up for work. When he told the shop steward that he was distraught over the tragic death of his girlfriend, the superior told him not to worry about work.
The next day, meaning Wednesday, both Velazquez brothers called in sick and went to Verea's wake.
Rich Velazquez took an additional sick day on Thursday, but Eddie reported to work. Eddie Velazquez was told by DPW chief Jim Wiley that he was being docked for not properly calling out on Tuesday and that both brothers were receiving the five-day unpaid suspensions.
The Velazquez brothers met with union and township officials last week to discuss the matter. They were both back on the job before the suspension was to take place, but no results of the meeting were made public.
"The township's position is that it will not be discussed with anyone," township spokesman Craig Schmalz said. "It's a personnel matter and if there is a grievance, it should be taken up with the union representative."
By the brothers' appearance at work last week, it appears as if the issue has been resolved.
The Rebeka Verea Foundation event will be held on July 10, 2005 at the Rockleigh Country Club, 26 Paris Avenue, Rockleigh, N.J. from 12 noon to 5 p.m. For more information about the event, please visit the website at www.rebekavereafoundation.org.