- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2016

An off-duty police officer who was fatally struck by a car on the New Jersey Turnpike early Sunday may have threatened the life of another motorist seconds prior to the crash, investigators said.

Officer Vincent Harrison of the New York Police Department died after being hit by a 2008 Infiniti EX35 between exits 13 and 14A in Elizabeth, N.J.

Investigators initially revealed that Officer Harrison, 25, had been traveling southbound on the turnpike when his 2013 Chevrolet Cruze collided with a 2003 Ford Escape as he attempted a lane change, prompting him to exit his car and approach the other vehicle. Moments later he was struck in traffic by the passing Infiniti and was later pronounced dead on the scene.

On Wednesday, investigators said the off-duty officer may had been involved in an altercation with the driver of the Ford Escape when the incident occurred.

Citing acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park and New Jersey State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes, NJ.com reported that Officer Harrison “exchanged words with the Ford’s driver and had his weapon drawn right before the Infiniti struck.”

The two were involved in a verbal dispute after the fender-bender, and Officer Harrison eventually drew his service weapon and aimed it at the female driver as she stayed seated in her car, a local ABC News affiliate reported Wednesday, citing unnamed sources.

The off-duty officer allegedly yelled remarks along the lines of “You don’t know who I am” and “I can kill you right now” numerous times before he stepped backwards into traffic and was fatally struck by an SUV, ABC reported.

William Espinal-Mejia, 35, who authorities said was driving the SUV that collided with the officer, is charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident for failing to call 911 after the crash. He surrendered Monday and has pleaded not guilty.

“[Mr. Espinal-Mejia] didn’t stay on the roadway, he left,” assistant prosecutor Robert Rosenthal said, NJ.com reported. “He didn’t pull over somewhere further down and make a phone call. He didn’t get off the highway and make a phone call. He didn’t drive to a police station and make a phone call.”

Mr. Espinal-Mejia’s attorney, Victor Rotolo, claims his client had gotten out of his car, but retreated when an approaching tractor-trailer started to jackknife.

“It was just a very, very dangerous situation,” Mr. Rotolo said at a Wednesday court hearing. “He had his wife and cousin in the car and he made the decision to leave.”

The incident remains under investigation, and the Union County Prosecutor’s Office told the ABC affiliate that it doesn’t expect to file charges against the female motorist involved in the fender-bender with Officer Harrison.

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