At the dedication ceremony for three Hudson County police officers killed in vehicle wrecks in the past year, Helen Kamel, mother to deceased Union City Police Officer John Kamel, let her heart out.
She wept for the future successes he’ll never have, the grandchildren he won’t be able to give her, and the father he’ll never become, all dashed by tragedy. Kamel, 26, died last July in a multi-vehicle accident on JFK Boulevard while enroute to work.
The other two officers killed were Jersey City Police Lt. Christopher Robateau and Union City Police Lt. Mark Zeitounian.
In their honor, officials dedicated an anti-collision vehicle from the newly-formed Hudson County Regional Fatal Collision Investigation Unit at the event on Aug. 6.
“Nothing can be worse than losing your only child,” Helen said, struggling to maintain her composure. “The most precious gift I’ve ever gotten from God. I wish what happened was just a nightmare, and just not true.”
Robateau died in January after a vehicle struck him on the New Jersey Turnpike. He had left his car to assist a driver involved in a minor accident. His wife Rose Robateau and sons Christopher, Michael, and Darin were on hand.
“I am very overjoyed that you are honoring my husband and his legacy by dedicating this vehicle in his name,” Rose said.
“This type of thing, it doesn’t just happen to anybody,” said Christopher, after the ceremony, about the honor for his dad. He remembered the vacations they used to take when he was younger.
Michael remembered watching horror movies with his old man, all the time. “It’s great,” he said, of the vehicle dedication. “Like my brother said, it doesn’t happen to just anybody who passes away.”
Zeitounian’s wife Debbie and son Jason attended the ceremony but did not speak. He died in a multi-vehicle collision on Route 3 in East Rutherford last May.
“When we lose a loved one, we try to carry that previous memory in the small ways we know how,” said Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez. “This regional unit has come together because of each law enforcement agency’s willing participation and full cooperation. The commitment displayed by the various police departments is similar to the way that these officers carried themselves in their careers as law enforcement officials.”
“I am very overjoyed that you are honoring my husband and his legacy.” – Rose Robateau
The vehicle, a Ford F250, will be used to respond to vehicular crashes throughout the county. It features tools such as an aerial drone, laser scanning, and measuring equipment to analyze evidence at collision scenes.
According to Suarez, in the six months since the Investigation Unit’s formation, it has conducted 36 investigations. Sixteen of those cases included criminality. There were 12 fatalities, resulting from 10 collisions. Six of them were pedestrians, four were vehicle occupants, and two were drivers. There were six fatalities in Jersey City, three in North Bergen, and one in West New York.
“This unit was first introduced back in January (and) I had said that Hudson County families deserve a unit that is dedicated to the investigation of fatal motor vehicle accidents, pedestrian hits, and collisions involving serious injury,” Suarez said. “That unit should have the latest equipment, the best trained investigators and the best prosecutor that we can provide to ensure that justice is served when a loved one is lost.”
Union City Police Chief Richard Molinari, Hoboken Police Chief Ken Ferrante, and West New York Police Director Robert Antolos also appeared at the ceremony.
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org