http://www.bergen.com/bne/hnr200106053.htm

Ex-volunteer fire chief in hot water
Tuesday, June 5, 2001

By NICOLE GAUDIANO
Staff Writer

A former Dumont volunteer fire chief was charged Monday with leaving the scene of an accident that left a borough teenager on crutches.

Firefighter James Molinaro, who is also a utility worker, apparently heard what turned out to be an incorrect report that his apartment was on fire and rushed to the scene in a Public Service Electric and Gas van around 11:30 a.m., said Dumont Police Chief Warren Kane.

In his haste, Molinaro drove on the wrong side of Madison Avenue, passing a line of cars stopped at a red light, the chief said.

When the light changed to green, Kane said, a driver turned left in front of Molinaro, who swerved across the sidewalk and into a front yard at Madison and Johnson avenues to avoid the vehicle.

In the process, the van knocked down a bus stop sign that struck 16-year-old Timothy Choe, Kane said.

Choe, who plays soccer for Dumont High School, said he and his friends were walking on Madison Avenue to a nearby convenience store when he saw the truck headed toward him. He said he was struck by the sign but couldn't remember what happened next.

"At first when I fell, I couldn't move," Choe said, in an interview a few hours after the accident. "I was stunned. I kind of rolled out of the way as fast as I could."

The next thing he remembered, Choe said, was Molinaro speaking to him.

"He got out of the car and said something like, 'Are you OK? My house is on fire,' and just ran off," the teenager said, adding that he was still on the ground as Molinaro sped away.

Choe was treated at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center and released on crutches. He was bruised and suffered a cut on his left shin.

"Thank God it's not major injuries," said his mother, Yung Chin Choe said.

Choe said his friends and witnesses told him the truck's bumper hit his shin, which explains the pain he was feeling Monday afternoon.

"It's hard for me to walk because my left leg, it hurts a lot," he said, explaining the crutches. "The right leg, I can put some pressure on it, but my ankle kind of hurts."

Dumont resident Omar Rodriguez said he witnessed the crash from his car and stopped to help the teenager.

"When I got there, [Choe] was holding his head and his eyes were closed," Rodriguez said. "Plus, he probably got the scare of his lifetime."

"[Molinaro] backs up, tells the kid 'My house is on fire,' and peels out," Rodriguez said. "[He] just leaves the kid lying on the sidewalk."

As it turned out, the fire was at the Dumont Terrace Apartments, where Molinaro lives, but not at his apartment, Kane said.

After the crash, Molinaro went to the fire at 140 Dulles Drive, told officers at the scene about the crash, changed into his fire gear, and helped fight the fire, the chief said.

"He felt no one was injured," Kane said.

Molinaro was charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving personal injuries and property damage, in addition to reckless driving, both motor vehicle offenses. He was released on summonses to appear in Municipal Court.

Molinaro could not be reached for comment Monday. A man who identified himself as his son refused to comment.

Fire Chief Michael Gracey said the crash was "still under investigation, as far as I'm concerned," and said he would need to review the incident before he could comment.

The apartment fire was knocked down within five to 10 minutes, Gracey said. Police and firefighters evacuated the tenants and no one was injured, he said.

As of Monday afternoon, there was no change in the status of Molinaro's employment, said Josephine Anderson, a PSE&G spokeswoman. However, she said, the company would investigate.

Choe considers himself lucky. Since the soccer season ended Sunday, he won't miss any games. And although he can expect to remain on the crutches for about four weeks, he planned to return to school today.

"Nothing's broken," he said.



[This message has been edited by CRISPY (edited 06-07-2001).]