06/25/2003

Newark Officer Dies After Car Is Hit at Intersection

Officer Down: Melvin Lisojo - [Newark, New Jersey]

A Newark, N.J. police officer responding to a call died yesterday after his car was struck in an intersection by a vehicle running a red light, the police said. The driver of the other car, who the police said was drunk, was arrested and charged with felony murder.

The officer, Melvin Lisojo, 35, a five-year veteran of the force and the father of three children, died two and a half hours after the 2 a.m. crash, police officials said.

The arrested man, Akram Q. Evans, 26, of Orange, was also charged with aggravated assault on an officer and possession of a weapon. A half-empty pint bottle of gin was found in his car, and toxicology reports later found that he had an alcohol blood content level of 0.18 percent, Police Director Robert Rankin said at a news conference at police headquarters. The legal limit in New Jersey is 0.10 percent.

The crash occurred as Officer Lisojo was riding in the passenger seat of an unmarked police vehicle with his partner, Kyle Bowman, 36, as they rushed to respond to reports of gunshots in the Vailsburg section of Newark. Their car was the second of three heading west on 18th Street to the scene, said Lt. Derek Glenn, a department spokesman. They made their way down 18th Street with flashing lights and sirens, he said.

The police said a witness told investigators that the first car in the caravan made it through a green light at 18th Street and Bergen Street. But when Officer Lisojo's car went through the intersection, a 1995 Cadillac Seville heading south on Bergen Street, driven by Mr. Evans, ran a red light and crashed into it, Lieutenant Glenn said. "Evans struck the car on the side, causing it to flip over," he said. "The impact made the vehicle stand on its side."

Lieutenant Glenn said that the car had to be cut open to free Officer Lisojo from the wreckage and that he was taken by ambulance to University Hospital. But Officer Lisojo died of the trauma he suffered, Lieutenant Glenn said. Officer Bowman was also treated at University Hospital, for a concussion and lacerations, then released.

Mr. Evans, who is being held in $300,000 bail at the Essex County Jail, was driving with a suspended license for failing to pay traffic summonses and had three open warrants for his arrest in Irvington and Newark, Mr. Rankin said. He has been arrested six times and had one felony conviction, Mr. Rankin said.

Officer Lisojo, who is divorced, had just put his three children — Brandon, 8, Ashley, 12, and Jahaida, 15 — on a plane to visit their mother in Florida, Mr. Rankin said. When the plane landed, they were immediately brought back to New Jersey, the police director said.

The officers were part of a specialized unit of the Newark police called the Neighborhood Enforcement Stabilization Task Force, which was formed to work to stamp out violent crime and open-air drug markets.

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