Louis Santiago: New Jersey police officer jailed for killing nurse and driving home with his body

A New Jersey police officer was sentenced to five years in jail for running over a nurse and driving back home with the man’s body in the back of his car.

Louis Santiago, 26, pleaded guilty to drinking and driving as well as three felony counts for the crash on 1 November 2021.

The nurse, Damian Dymka, 29, was killed in the crash that happened when he was walking on the hard shoulder of the Garden State Parkway.

During an emotional exchange at the hearing in Essex County Court in Newark, Santiago apologised to the nurse’s family and the father of the victim forgave him.

“I forgive you, boy,” Andrzej Dymka told Santiago in the courtroom. “I understand you are a young person. I lost my son. Thank God you’re still alive.”

“And you have a chance to fix your life,” he said. “I will cross my fingers for you.”

Santiago was off duty when he was returning from a party with his cousin Albert Guzman at 3am when his car crashed into Dymka.

The two did not call the police or ambulance, but strapped Dymka’s body in the back of the car to drive to his home in Bloomfield to consult his family.

After discussing with his mother Annette Santiago and father Luis Santiago, who was a Newark police lieutenant, he drove back to the place of accident and put the nurse’s body back to the scene.

“Put that body back where you hit it,” Ms Santiago said, according to the affidavit of probable cause. “Put it on the floor.”

The men returned to the scene of the accident multiple times before putting Dymka in the Honda Accord and driving back home.

After returning to the scene with his father, they called 911.

Dymka was pronounced dead at 5.27am, more than two hours after he was hit by Santiago. The Essex County prosecutor’s office said the cause of death was blunt force trauma.

Santiago was charged with reckless vehicular homicide, desecrating human remains, tampering with physical evidence and other charges that included official misconduct.

In court, Santiago said it was an accident and sought forgiveness from the family of the victims.

“To Damian’s family and friends, I know nothing I say will ease your suffering, but I am truly sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean this. This was an accident.”

“My actions on that night and early morning were inexcusable,” he said.

“As an officer of the law, I should have never been behind the wheel after consuming alcohol.

“I should have acted accordingly after realizing what exactly was going on, but I completely panicked.”

Prosecutor Adam Wells said Santiago prioritised protecting himself rather than the man dying in the street to cover up his wrongdoing.

He called his actions “despicable” and “disgusting”.

Santiago’s mother and cousin were also charged with conspiracy to desecrate human remains, among other charges.

But charges against the mother were dropped.

“My biggest regret was not calling Bloomfield PD on that night in front of my house,” said the former police officer, who was handed two years of probation.

“I should have stayed at my home, detained Louis and my nephew and called the proper authorities,” he said.

Guzman also pleaded guilty to obstructing prosecution charge and was placed in a pretrial intervention programme.

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