News and Press Releases

Tinton falls, n.J., man pleads guilty to involuntary manslaughter in death of school principal



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 26, 2011


 

TRENTON, N.J. – Dennis Smentkowski of Tinton Falls, N.J, admitted today to driving his car while impaired by the sleep medication Ambien, causing the death of Donald Merce in a head-on collision, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Smentkowski, 46, pleaded guilty today to a one-count Indictment charging him with involuntary manslaughter. Smentkowski entered his guilty plea before U.S. District Judge Joel A. Pisano in Trenton federal court.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Smentkowski was driving his Ford Explorer southbound on Oceanport Avenue near the East Gate of Fort Monmouth at 7 a.m. on May 6, 2008, when he drove across a double yellow line into oncoming traffic and collided head-on with a vehicle driven by Merce, 58, who was on his way to his job as principal of the Markham Place School in Little Silver.

At the time of the collision with Merce's vehicle, Smentkowski was impaired under the laws of New Jersey as a result of his being under the influence of the sleep aid drug Zolpidem, a Schedule IV controlled substance, commonly known as Ambien, which he had taken prior to getting into his car.

Smentkowski admitted he had ingested at least four 12.5 mg dosages of Ambien in the hour or so before the collision, four times the recommended dosage. Smentkowski admitted he consciously disregarded the substantial risk to the safety and the lives of others by operating a motor vehicle while his ability to drive was impaired by Ambien. He also admitted his actions caused the death of Donald Merce, who was killed instantly from the injuries he suffered during the collision.

As a part of Fort Monmouth at the time, the site of the collision falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government. The facility has since closed.

The involuntary manslaughter count to which Smentkowski pleaded guilty carries a maximum potential penalty of eight years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Smentkowski is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Pisano on Jan. 24, 2012.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of FBI-Red Bank, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Ward; the former Fort Monmouth Police, U.S. Department of Defense; and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office under the direction of Peter E. Warshaw Jr.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Frazer of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Organized Crime/Gangs Unit in Newark.

11-424                                                                                        

Defense counsel: Charles J. Uliano Esq., West Long Branch, N.J.

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