Prosecutor: Driver Who Killed Cop Had Methadone Bottle
Michael Cassella, 29, faces up to 30 years in jail if convicted of the Sunday morning death of 38-year-old Officer Joseph Wargo.
An empty methadone bottle was found in the car of a man charged in the death of a veteran Mount Arlington police officer, Morris County Assistant Prosecutor Kelly Lavery said Tuesday afternoon.
Lavery also said almost $1,500 in cash was discovered on Michael Cassella, 29, of Howell, who police say crashed while driving intoxicated into the police cruiser of 38-year-old Joseph Wargo on Route 80 early Sunday morning, killing Wargo. Cassella's Morristown-based attorney, Robert Dunn, said Cassella is unemployed and lives with his grandparents.
Judge David Ironson upheld Cassella's $500,000 bail with no 10-percent option as Cassella appeared in the Morris County Courthouse via video from the Morris County Jail. Cassella, wearing gray prison garb, spoke only to acknowledge his charges and seemed stoic throughout the short hearing.
Ironson also denied Dunn's request to cancel a source hearing, which determines how bail would be paid.
Cassella is charged with vehicular homicide, aggravated manslaughter, driving while intoxicated, reckless driving and speeding.
This isn't Cassella's first run in with the law. He was convicted on drug charges four times—in 2002, 2003, 2004 and in 2009. He was released from jail under intense supervised parole in July 2011 after the 2009 charge of attempting to defraud a drug test.
A conviction could land Cassella in jail for 20 to 30 years due to extended-term eligibility, which factors in previous convictions, Lavery said. Cassella is scheduled to appear in court for an early-disposition conference on Nov. 24.
Mount Arlington Mayor Art Ondish, reached Sunday, called the death "a tragedy for Mount Arlington."
"We lost one of our family and it's just a time to grieve right now," Ondish said.
Morris County Prosecutor Robert A. Bianci said the Morris County Communications Center received a report of a motor vehicle entrapment involving a Mount Arlington police cruiser on Route 80 East at about 12:12 a.m. Sunday.
Cassella, who was driving on Route 80 west at a "high rate of speed," lost control of his white 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer and slid sideways across the center median and into the eastbound side of traffic, Bianchi said. Cassella then smashed into Wargo's Ford Crown Victoria while Wargo was on routine patrol, Bianchi said. Wargo was pronounced dead at Morristown Medical Center at 1:25 a.m.
Cassella was speeding and weaving through traffic, and might have been on his cell phone at some point, said Lavery, citing witnesses and Cassella's statements to police after the accident.
Wargo left behind a wife.
The accident remains under investigation and police are asking anyone with information to call the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office at 973-285-2900, the Morris County Sheriff's Office Crime Stopper Program at 973-COP-CALL or the New Jersey State Police at 973-347-1000.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story's headline referred to the empty bottle found in Cassella's car as "meth." Police said it was a methadone bottle.