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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 , 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.

BeachBum October 18, 2011 at 09:41 PM
wrong guy died here - horrible!
Steve October 18, 2011 at 11:08 PM
30 years ????????????? . How about 30 days, then a rope and a good old beer party at the lynching, (with designated drivers of course). Bottom of the barrel !.
Cher October 18, 2011 at 11:15 PM
If he was unemployed how come he had all that cash and a new car!!!?? Yes, the wrong guy did died here!
Josh Dubnick October 19, 2011 at 12:04 AM
How sad. My condolences to the family of the police officer. Why did this guy have a license? Why did he have a 2011 car? Also, methadone is not what is popularly called "Meth". That's crystal methamphetamine, at least I think it is. Last I heard, methadone is given to people trying to kick a heroin addiction. If it was his, this guy should have been on all sorts of radar and he should have either had no or a very restricted license (to work and N.A. only during daylight hours only with an interlock on the car). This poor cop died a needless death due to this loser. So sad.
Dee October 19, 2011 at 01:34 AM
When will we start treating repeat offenders as criminals? Ever hear of the three strikes rule? He should have already been in jail. This is such a disgusting needless death. Totally avoidable if we had laws in place for scum bags like this. My heartfelt symathies to his loved ones.
Longtimeresident October 19, 2011 at 05:57 AM
Methadone is for people kicking dope and I believe is used as a pain killer. As a 3 year sober recovering addict, I can say methadone is a dopey high. Was for me anyway.
Longtimeresident October 19, 2011 at 05:58 AM
This guy should be up for life.
mayfairwitch1 October 19, 2011 at 11:40 AM
and unfortunately he isn't the only one driving NJ roads in that condition, truly scary... Lives with his grand parents...can't wait to hear that whole story....
Kimberly Barton-Puglis October 19, 2011 at 12:11 PM
NJ needs tougher laws on people who use drugs over and over again, not just a slap on the wrist.
Edubb October 19, 2011 at 03:50 PM
The Prisons are a billion $$ a year business. Between building repairs, OT etc the cost is astonishing. The legislators want more and more money to run these prisons. Morris county Jail only has room for about 500 inmates and it costs almost $20 million a year to operate. So if the budget can not be met and taxes are voted down, the prisons will push to release as many inmates as possible.

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