WEST ORANGE, NJ — A major accident on the eastbound side of Route 280 sent two state troopers and five West Orange firefighters to the hospital on Tuesday, July 30, when a dump truck struck the state troopers as they stood outside their patrol cars while responding to another accident. Two West Orange police officers were also injured in the crash, which also damaged a WOFD ambulance and firetruck, state police cars and other vehicles.
The accident happened at approximately 10:20 a.m. as emergency crews were responding to another crash, blocking the right lane. The dump truck first hit a Honda Accord and a Ford Econoline van, according to a statement from the New Jersey State Police on July 31. The van was pushed into both a Honda CR-V and a state police vehicle occupied by a state police officer.
The state police car was forced into a Ford E-450 and an unoccupied state police car, and they continued onto the right shoulder of the road and struck the ambulance. The ambulance was pushed into the rear of the WOFD truck.
“The trooper who was seated in the State Police vehicle when it was struck sustained moderate injuries. A trooper and firefighter sustained serious injuries while assisting a patient in the rear of the ambulance when it was struck,” the statement from the New Jersey State Police read. “Another trooper sustained a severe hand laceration when he jumped over a guardrail to avoid being struck by one of the vehicles.”
According to a statement from the township on July 30, the two WOPD officers and five firefighters were transported to the hospital. The police officers and four of the firefighters were treated and released. The fifth firefighter, William Holder, remained in the hospital.
According to the township, Holder has been a firefighter for West Orange for six years. While showing signs of improvement, Holder remains in serious but stable condition in the ICU at University Hospital. A “meal train” and donations page has been established by FMBA Locals 28 & 228 on behalf of Holder’s family. Anyone wishing to support should visit https://mealtrain.com/1ge2k3.
The New Jersey State Firefighters’ Mutual Benevolent Association President Eddie Donnelly also made a statement on July 30, saying the fifth firefighter was conscious.
“Our West Orange Locals has had a tough day. I am happy to let you know all Firefighters and State Troopers are alive. Some are in very serious condition and will require a long road to recovery,” Donnelly wrote. “The outpouring of calls, texts and emails have been overwhelming! Please keep our brothers from West Orange and NJSP in your prayers. I want to personally thank our NJ FMBA critical incident team, who was in West Orange to help our members through this tragic event. Thank you to all the locals that provided mutual aid today and if anyone needs any assistance please reach out to your District VP.”
Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver also released a statement July 30.
“Our thoughts are with the State Troopers, fire personnel, EMS professionals and pedestrians who were injured in this morning’s incident along Interstate 280, when a dump truck plowed into the site of an earlier accident,” Oliver said. “While this is an ongoing investigation, it should remind us all of the dangers our first responders can encounter while performing their jobs on our roadways. We wish all of those injured a speedy recovery. We will continue to pray for them all.”
Tyler Treible, an EMT in the Rockaway Township Fire Department who had responded to the original accident, in a Facebook post on July 30 urged drivers to slow down when they see emergency vehicles on the roads.
“While we were on scene we heard the air horn of a dump truck seconds before we heard/felt the impact. We were inches away from being killed, saw fellow brothers and sisters getting hit with cars. We are out there putting our lives in danger to help and protect fellow citizens. We are everyday people like you, we go out, we have families to go home to, this is our job,” Treible said. “I beg you, even if this just reaches one person. PLEASE slow down and move over if safe if you see emergency lights, or even just a car pulled over on the side of the road. Today was a huge wake up call for me and my partner, it shows how quickly life can change. So please, before you worry about ‘oh I need to get to my appointment, or get where I’m going’ just remember, we have loved ones to go home to as well.”
Taxi Cab Burger food truck owner David Gilenson also said the state should take measures to make the highway safer, especially around the mountain inclines. He was driving east in his truck and slowed down as he approached the original accident on the road, and ended up next to a police car.
“Then about 20 seconds later, the dump truck crashed and the police car ricocheted into my truck,” Gilenson, who grew up in the St. Cloud section of West Orange, said told the West Orange Chronicle in an Aug. 5 phone interview.
Gilenson wasn’t injured in the accident. His truck was damaged, but not enough to render it inoperable. He said, other than the shock of the accident, he was physically fine and able to go back to work later that week. In the aftermath of the accident, he handed out water and set up a tent he had inside his truck to help the first responders. Gilenson was at the scene for approximately 12 hours.
“Down the mountain is the worst part,” he said about the section of Route 280 on which he was traveling. “It’s three lanes that funnels into two. I know 280, and there’s a lot of accidents that happen there. The state should do something about it.”