The man accused of causing the death of a teenage bicyclist makes no comment at a courtroom hearing.
While John and Mary Bray were burying their 17-year-old son, the man suspected of causing his death was standing in handcuffs in Palmyra Village Hall.
Anibal Fontanez of Newark listened through an interpreter as police presented evidence Thursday afternoon at a preliminary hearing before Palmyra Town Justice Terry Rodman. With him in the courtroom were more than a dozen of his family members.
Outside, dozens of people — mostly teens — held photos of hit-and-run victim Mathew Bray, who police say was killed Sunday evening when he was struck from behind while riding his bicycle on Hogback Road.
Fontanez, 36, is charged with first-degree vehicular manslaughter, felony driving while intoxicated, aggravated unlicensed operation, leaving the scene of a fatal motor vehicle accident and other traffic violations. According to police records, this is Fontanez’s fourth DWI charge.
State Trooper James M. Cavallaro Jr., who was on duty that night of the accident, described the events. He said a man and woman were at the accident scene when he arrived; they told Cavallaro they were driving by and stopped when they saw Mathew. The woman told Cavallaro she was a nurse.
Cavallaro said he approached Mathew.
“The young man was on his left side still clutching the bicycle,” he said. “He had an apparent head trauma, scrapes and bruises (on his body) and blood was coming from his ears.”
Shaw asked Cavallaro if he saw signs of life. After a brief glance at Fontanez, Cavallaro said “no.”
Mathew was taken to Newark-Wayne Community Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
At the scene for two-plus hours, Cavallaro — an experienced accident investigator — said he determined the point of impact to be in the center of the westbound lane. The seat of the bicycle was found in an unplowed field on the north side of the road along with a damaged license plate.
“(The plate) appeared to have been hit in the middle,” Cavallaro said. “There was a red smear or streak on it that looked like blood.”
Holes poked through the license plate, he said, that suggested bicycle spokes had gone through it.
When the numbers on the plate were run, police had the name of Patricia Maddox of Siegrist Street. She and Fontanez had married two days earlier, Cavallaro said.
Cavallaro said at about 11:30 p.m., he was dispatched from the scene to the Newark Police Department, where Fontanez had turned himself in. The trooper administered field sobriety tests to Fontanez, who, Cavallaro said, smelled strongly of alcohol.
“The conclusion I came to is Mr. Fontanez was in fact intoxicated,” he said.
State police Senior Inv. Orlando Gonzalez, who speaks Spanish, told the court that about 10 o’clock that night he was called at his home, briefed about the accident and summoned to the Newark police station. According to police, Fontanez — a native of Puerto Rico — does not speak much English. Gonzalez said he was able to communicate with him in Spanish.
During their conversation, Fontanez allegedly told Gonzalez “he struck something on the road he believed to be an animal,” the investigator told the court. “He said he looked around, didn’t see anything and drove to his mother-in-law’s house (in Manchester).”
Gonzalez also said Fontanez told him that he’d gotten married that Friday and was celebrating with family on Sunday. He allegedly said he’d consumed four to five beers.
“I noticed his eyes were bloodshot and his demeanor was slow,” Gonzalez said.
A breath test, administered by a Newark police sergeant at 10:58 p.m., registered a blood-alcohol content of 0.16 — twice the legal limit, according to the troopers.
Continuing in Spanish, Gonzalez said he told Fontanez about the hit-and-run.
“I told him he didn’t strike an animal, he struck a person and the person had died,” he said. “He put his head down and showed some emotion … I’m not sure if he cried … He was surprised.”
During his cross-examination, county Public Defender Andy Correa asked Gonzalez if, during their conversation, Fontanez told him he had a passenger in the car.
Before Wayne County Assistant District Attorney David Shaw’s objection could be considered by the judge, the officer said “yes.”
Correa had no witnesses and closing arguments were presented in writing to the judge without comment.
Family members sobbed and clung to one another as Fontanez — who made no comment during the hearing — was escorted out the back door. He was returned to the Wayne County Jail, where he remains without bail pending grand jury action. If convicted on the most serious charge, manslaughter, Fontanez faces a maximum sentence of five to 15 years in state prison.
Neither law enforcement personnel nor the attorneys would comment following the hearing.
“Leave us alone,” a member of Fontanez’s family said as they left the Village Hall.
Outside, family members had to walk past the crowd of Bray’s friends, who were held at a distance by police.
A few young people made comments to them as they passed through the lot to get to their cars. Signs raised high in the air — in both Spanish and English — begged the question, “What about Mathew?”
Catherine Pierce, whose son was a friend of Mathew’s, burst into tears when a member of Fontanez’s family looked at her and said, “I’m very sorry.”
“Gracias,” was all Pierce could reply.