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For Immediate Release:  
For Further Information Contact:
April 25, 2005

Office of The Attorney General
- Peter C. Harvey, Attorney General
Division of Criminal Justice
- Vaughn L. McKoy, Director

 

John R. Hagerty
609-984-1936

 

Ocean County Man Charged with Attempting to Run Down State Trooper on Turnpike Pleads Guilty to Eluding and Aggravated Assault on a Police Officer

Trenton -- Attorney General Peter C. Harvey announced that an Ocean County resident has pleaded guilty in Essex County Superior Court to charges stemming from a 2003 incident on the New Jersey Turnpike where the defendant attempted to run-down a New Jersey State Trooper while making a motor vehicle stop. The investigation was conducted by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team which includes the Division of Criminal Justice and the New Jersey State Police.

According to Vaughn L. McKoy, Director, Division of Criminal Justice, Leon H. Wolniewicz, 50, 20 Linstead Court, Toms River, Ocean County, pleaded guilty before Essex County Superior Court Judge Michael A. Petrolle to charges of eluding police (2nd degree), aggravated assault on a police officer (3rd degree), reckless driving, and failure to obey the orders of a police officer. The charges were contained in a State Grand Jury indictment returned on Nov. 29, 2004. Wolniewicz has posted $75,000 bail and is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Petrolle on July 1. Wolniewicz faces up to 15 years in state prison and a fine of up to $165,000.

Director McKoy noted that the incident, investigated by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team, occurred at the Exit 15-E toll plaza, New Jersey Turnpike, Newark, Essex County, in the early afternoon of Wed., April 22, 2003. The investigation determined that State Trooper Mark Kepenis, while patrolling northbound on the New Jersey Turnpike, observed a 2002 C240 Mercedes-Benz traveling at a high rate of speed. Trooper Kepenis activated the patrol vehicle’s emergency lights and attempted to stop the vehicle. The Mercedes failed to pull over and exited the Turnpike at the 15-E Interchange. Trooper Kepenis drove through the 15-E toll plaza, positioned the State Police patrol vehicle in front of the toll plaza and exited the patrol vehicle. The Mercedes failed to stop after going through the toll plaza and continued in the direction of Trooper Kepenis. After being struck by the vehicle, Trooper Kepenis fired four shots from his issued 9mm service weapon. As a result of the confrontation, Wolniewicz sustained a gunshot wound to the head and injuries related to the crash of the vehicle.

The Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team determined that Trooper Kepenis was justified in the use of deadly force. The prosecution was coordinated by Deputy Attorney General Steven B. Farman, assigned to the Division of Criminal Justice Shooting Response Team.

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