#car and driver
Garfield Police charge driver of vehicle that dropped into Saddle River
A vehicle in the Saddle River in Garfield on Nov. 17. The driver of the vehicle faces a number of charges.
The driver of a car that drove off the road and into the Saddle River, surviving a 20-foot drop into the water, has been identified and charged with driving under the influence.
Police charged Rafal Olender, 35, of Lyndhurst, with driving under the influence, driving under the influence in a school zone, careless driving, reckless driving and driving while his driver’s license and registration were suspended.
Olender was driving a Ford Explorer on Nov. 17 when he drove off the road and into the Saddle River in Garfield. According to the police report, Olender was on River Drive when he accelerated and spun the tires for approximately 25 feet leaving “heavy rubber marks on the blacktop.” Olender then continued west through a parking lot at a “high rate of speed,” turned left around the Quik Check, continued traveling south and drove up a landscaped embankment, through a chain link fence and dropped down 20 feet into the Saddle River where the car landed upside down.
Reports came in of the car crash at Midland Avenue and River Drive where the vehicle went into the river around 4 p.m.
Garfield Sgt. Michael Marsh and Officer Christopher Strabone were at police headquarters and responded to the scene. While they were on their way patrol units confirmed a car in the Saddle River overturned with entrapment.
On scene, Marsh saw the car upside down with several civilians in the water near the vehicle. The officers put on water rescue gear and secured a rope to the bridge wall to lower equipment down.
When Marsh ascended the river bank and entered the water he was met by off-duty Emergency Service Unit (ESU) Police Department Officer Robert Meehan and off-duty Garfield volunteer firefighter Patrick Ducey who had entered the water. They were holding the driver’s head above water with the help from a civilian.
“The water level had the interior of the car almost completely submerged,” Marsh said. “His body was underwater. If no one helped him it would have been a problem.”
All the civilians were removed to the river bank for their safety. Police retrieved a backboard and stokes basket. Police were then able to extricate the driver from the car and place him on a backboard.
The driver was removed from the water and stabilized where ESU and arriving fire department personnel removed him from the riverbank and turned him over to EMS, according to Marsh.
At that time, Ducey and Meehan were removed from the water and turned over to EMS for evaluation. No injuries were reported.
Marsh and Strabone assisted with water rescue and members from the Garfield and Wallington fire departments conducted a secondary search of the car and surrounding river to ensure there were no other victims. It was confirmed that no one else was in the river.
Olender was transported to Hackensack University Medical Center for further medical treatment.
Marsh and Strabone then deployed hazardous materials booms across the Saddle River to contain the runoff leaking from the car’s engine. Then they assisted members of Fire Company 3 and the city tower with hooking up the car for the lift out of the river.