The driver of the truck that fell through the ice of the Toms River last weekend should pay for the massive rescue response that included local police and fire departments, New Jersey state troopers and the U.S. Coast Guard, Ocean County Freeholder Joseph Vicari said Wednesday.
The driver, Andrew Mayer, 27, and passenger, Daniel Jolly, 25, both of Toms River, were unharmed in the incident, though Mayer’s dog died after the vehicle plunged through the ice early Sunday morning. Authorities say the truck was spotted doing “donuts” on the ice before it disappeared. Mayer is facing numerous charges over the incident, including criminal mischief, pollution and reckless driving.
Vicari said Mayer should have his license suspended until he pays for the entire cost of the rescue operation that, later, was found out to be fruitless since the driver made it safely to land. Mayer did not turn himself into authorities until the afternoon following the incident.
“There’s a cost factor to the taxpayers, but what I most want to impress is the safety factor,” Vicari said, suggesting that the state should adopt laws formally banning drivers from riding on icy bodies of water.
“There has to be some kind of penalty to serve as a deterrent so no one will ever put law enforcement officers in danger like that again,” Vicari said. “It goes to show sometimes why laws have to be put on the books and why people have to be told not to do things. We have to protect the lives of those in law enforcement. Something needs to be done, not only in the county but statewide.”
The response drew police officers, firefighters and other rescuers from six local municipalities, marine units and dive teams from the New Jersey State Police and helicopters from the state police and Coast Guard.
“I would suggest that [Mayer] pay the full amount of the cost from the Coast Guard, the State Police and the six towns that were out there,” Vicari said, and his license should be suspended until the debt is paid off.
Freeholder Director John Bartlett said while no one should be driving on the ice to begin with, the water off Pine Beach is a particularly bad place to venture out.
“Having been raised in that area, that’s the last place you should go into the river,” Bartlett said. “The current goes around that point, and the ice is never terribly solid.”
Mayer, authorities have said, has a long history of motor vehicle violations that includes 12 license suspensions. In addition to the latest violations he is facing, Mayer is being investigated by the law enforcement arm of the New Jersey SPCA over the death of the dog. In an article published in the Star-Ledger newspaper on Tuesday, Mayer’s relatives said he tried to save the animal.
The truck is still under water and will need to be hauled out by a commercial contractor once the weather improves, Vicari said.