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Police lieutenant charged with interfering in probe of cop son’s crash that killed a nurse

After hitting the victim, Officer Louis Santiago allegedly loaded the body into his car and drove home before eventually returning to the scene.
Lt. Luis Santiago of the Newark Police Dept.
Lt. Luis Santiago.Newark Police

A New Jersey police lieutenant has been indicted on charges of interfering in the investigation into a fatal car accident last Halloween involving his son, who is also a police officer.

The indictment of Newark Police Lt. Luis Santiago is the latest twist in the probe into the death of Damian Dymka, a nurse who was killed while walking along the Garden State Parkway.

Essex County prosecutors say Santiago’s 25-year-old son, Louis Santiago, was off duty and drunk when he crashed into Dymka about 3 a.m. on Nov. 1, 2021. 

Louis, who joined his father’s department in 2019, didn’t render aid or call the police, prosecutors said last November. Instead he and his passenger, Alberto Guzman, loaded the victim into the back of his Honda Accord and drove to his home in nearby Bloomfield, prosecutors said. 

Damian Dymka.
Damian Dymka.via Twitter

After discussing what to do with his mother, Louis drove back to the scene with the body in the car. His father called 911 and reported the accident, prosecutors said.

Dymka, 29, who was born in Poland and grew up in Garfield, N.J., was pronounced dead at the scene at 5:27 a.m., roughly two and a half hours after he was hit. The cause of death was blunt force trauma, according to a spokeswoman for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.

Louis Santiago, his mother and Guzman were all charged after the incident. 

Louis was charged with 12 felony counts, including reckless vehicular homicide and endangering an injured victim. Guzman and Santiago’s mother were charged with tampering with evidence and related offenses.

Last Friday, a grand jury opted not to indict his mother, but they did return indictments against Louis, Guzman and Louis’ father, according to Essex County prosecutors.

Lt. Luis Santiago, who joined the Newark police department in 1993, was charged with hindering prosecution, conspiracy to hinder prosecution and official misconduct. 

His son was indicted on the same 12 charges as before, and Guzman on the same three charges.

The Santiagos have both been suspended without pay by the Newark Police Department, a spokeswoman said.

They voluntarily surrendered at a state police facility where they were booked and released, according to Essex County prosecutors. Their arraignments have not yet been scheduled. 

Luis Santiago Sr.’s lawyer, Frank Arleo, said he was stunned by the indictment. 

“All of the evidence we saw suggested he did everything right,” Arleo said. “He did everything to try to make the situation better, including telling his son to go back to the scene and calling the police. It sounds like we have a runaway grand jury.”

Patrick Toscano, a lawyer representing Louis Santiago, said the indictment came as no surprise to his client. 

“We will defend against these charges forcefully and energetically,” Toscano said. “That having been said, charging Officer Santiago’s father with any offense whatsoever remains the quintessential example of  prosecutorial overreach. Lieutenant Santiago, a highly decorated and widely respected lieutenant in the Newark Police Department, broke no law at any time.”

Guzman’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Friends of Dymka, who was struck and killed while still in his Halloween costume after a night of partying, previously told NBC News they wondered whether he’d still be alive if aid was rendered immediately. 

“We can’t know that because of one person who was incredibly selfish,” said Miranda Stone, who met Dymka when they were students at Bergen Community College.