06/20/2003

Off-Duty N.J. Cop Killed In Car Crash

Officer Down: Darius Dudzic - [Wallington, New Jersey]

By Alisa Camacho, The Herald News

The flag in front of the Wallington Police station hangs at half-staff in honor of Darius Dudzic.

The 25-year-old borough officer was killed early Thursday after he lost control of his car on Route 46 in Clifton while off-duty, police said. The 2:47 a.m. accident happened on the eastbound lane slightly west of Van Houten Avenue.

Dudzic, who joined the Wallington force in December 2000, was driving a black Jeep Grand Cherokee. Witnesses told police he had been traveling in the right lane and had shifted to the left to pass a slow moving vehicle. As he attempted to return to the right lane, Dudzic apparently lost control of the vehicle on the slick roadway, hit a curb, and struck a utility pole. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

"We're talking about a guy who's a good cop, who always wanted to be a cop - and an all-around nice person besides," Wallington Police Director Anthony Benevento said of the highly decorated officer.

In Benevento's desk is a folder with Dudzic's name and commendations - some he hadn't yet received. One was for reviving an unconscious man at Farmland Dairies in April. Another detailed how he apprehended a suspect with a gun last week. Then two days later, he tracked down a man wanted for aggravated assault on a Passaic police officer. Dudzic already wore two sets of honor bars clipped to his uniform, though he never made it into the staff photo hanging on the wall behind the police director's desk.

"He came in and said, 'When are you going to get a new picture so I can be in it?'' Benevento recalled of a conversation last week

Instead, a large brown canvas bag filled with soggy hockey equipment, a scuffed and heavily taped stick atop the pile, is wedged between a file cabinet and a cardboard box in the director's office. Colleagues, who also responded to the crash site after being notified by Clifton police, recovered Dudzic's beloved sports paraphernalia from the roadway.

It was Wednesday morning when Dudzic popped into the police station. He told his pal, Patrolman Ron Goral, that he was spending the day at the Jersey Shore and had a hockey game planned later in the evening.

"I told him to stay out of the sun," Goral said. "The man basically bent over backwards for anyone. He never said no to anything."

Dudzic, the youngest of three sons, graduated from Wallington High School. He played for the Blueliners hockey team and often practiced at In Line Skating in Wallington, friends said. He was an avid churchgoer and loved to ride his Harley Davidson, even taking cousins visiting from Poland sightseeing on the bike.

The phone rang all day at the police station, officers volunteering to answer service calls so their Wallington comrades could take time off to grieve, Benevento said.

"As sad as it is, it's a tribute to him and the fraternity he's in," Benevento said. "Everybody comes together."
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