NEW BRUNSWICK,NJ—Two people died when a vehicle that may have been racing on Route 18 lost control, and crashed into the Raritan River near the Northeast Corridor railroad viaduct on July 25.
The crash happened at about 12:56am, just across the highway from the worldwide headquarters of Johnson & Johnson.
Shortly thereafter, ambulances and firefighters were looking for the vehicle in the woods between the highway and the river, according to emergency radio transmissions.
According to the brother of one of the victims, the driver had been racing with another vehicle before losing control, crashing into a guardrail, and rolling over into a wooded area.
A press release issued by the New Bruswick Police Department (NBPD) reported that the 2009 Honda Accord “went through a wooded area and landed partially submerged in the Raritan River.”
The crash occurred on the section of Route 18 between the Albany Street bridge and the railroad viaduct, just before the sign for the “George Street” exit for the Rutgers University College Avenue campus.
Behind the wheel of the car was 22-year-old Robert J. Veras-Toribio, a North Brunswick resident.
His 21-year-old passenger, Kelvin Lantigua, a New Brunswick man, died before he could be rescued from the car.
Friends who saw the crash ran to the area to help and performed CPR to Veras-Toribio before paramedics arrived. He was found outside the vehicle, according to the release.
The NBPD also credited the New Brunswick Fire Department (NBFD) with clearing the wooded area and for helping first responders to pick up the vehicle.
Kelvin Lantigua had recently started working for Blue Moon Video Productions & Photography. The company mourned his loss on their Facebook page: “We are so saddened… Our prayers go out to him and his family. He will be missed.”
Many Facebook users shared their condolences with the victims and their families. One user wrote, “Still can’t believe it, today in reality i loose a part of my heart. May god have you and roberto in his glory.”
The local public school system also shared their condolences in a statement: “The entire New Brunswick Public Schools family is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of two former students earlier today, in a motor vehicle accident. We extend our heartfelt condolences to their relatives and friends.”
The violent wreck came as a hot, summer weekend came to an end, and attracted coverage from New York television outlets that aired video of the severely-damaged car being lifted from the river overnight Sunday into Monday.
NJ.com’s Spencer Kent continued to ask questions about the the fatal incident, and his reporting revealed that the crash may have been the result of high-speed racing.
Christopher Lantigua, brother of Kelvin Lantigua, told Kent that he was in the car about an hour before the crash.
“They were racing…Supposedly, Robert lost control of the car. They were going pretty fast,” Lantigua told Kent.
According to the article, Christopher Lantigua said that he was told by friends that his brother knew the people they were racing with that night.
Christopher Lantigua was dropped off at his residence shortly after midnight, because he decided to meet his girlfriend for a meal to celebrate her birthday.
“I can’t believe it now, I could have been gone as well. If it weren’t for my girlfriend I probably would be dead,” Christopher Lantigua told Kent.
Family members of the victim were expected to speak with the police on July 26 to learn more about the crash, according to the NJ.com report.
According to emergency radio transmissions, there was a car on the side of the road with its hazard lights on and the crashed vehicle was next to it on the woods. It’s unknown if this vehicle was related to the crash.
While ambulances searched for the scene of the incident, Veras-Toribio was apparently in “cardiac arrest,” according to the transmissions. He was later pronounced dead at the scene.
After initially telling some personnel to stand down, the NBFD changed course and dispatched rescue equipment and additional personnel after an ominous radio transmission.
At about 1:10am, a voice on the emergency radio transmissions says, “I’m not sure if you’re gonna wanna upgrade this, but there’s a vehicle in the water. Possibly a passenger in there.”
Shortly thereafter, authorities began assembling resources for the rescue including: a saw, bolt cutters, “as much lighting as possible,” and eventually, life preservers and a thermal imaging camera.
By 1:15am, it was clear that a “water rescue” might be necessary, and firefighters began undertaking efforts to deploy “Marine One.”
The Somerset County “dive team” was also called in to support the rescue effort, entering the river at approximately 1:50am.
Route 18 North was shut down for a several hours, opening shortly before 6:00 am.
This is investigation into the crash is still active, and the NBPD is asking for the public help on this investigation. Anyone with information is asked to contact Officer Sean Cahill in the Traffic Safety Unit at 732-745-5005.