Audio tapes of police communications following a Christmas night crash on Schooley's Mountain Road indicate two witnesses saw a man fleeing the accident scene into the woods just as the first officer arrived.
Washington Township police reported on Dec. 26 that officers discovered a crashed vehicle on Schooley’s Mountain Road around 11 p.m. and found no one in the vicinity of the car. A further investigation led authorities on a three-hour search of the nearby wooded area to find the motorist who left the car behind.
Long Valley Patch obtained audio tapes of the initial communication between the first officers on the scene and the county dispatch center spanning a total of approximately 45 minutes.
Officer Scott Myers radioed into county dispatch after 11 p.m. and said he had just passed what looked like a single-car crash near Cataract Park on the northern end of Schooley’s Mountain Road and did not see a driver. Myers was turning around to go back to the scene and said he'd advise the dispatcher once he was out of his vehicle.
The dispatcher responded to Myers and said a caller reported seeing a black male leave the scene on foot, but could not verify what direction he went.
Once Myers arrived back at the scene of the crash, he was advised by the dispatch center that a second caller, who was traveling behind Myers when he first passed the accident, reported seeing a black male wearing camouflage clothing “run on foot” and headed into an embankment in the woods.
The police then requested a tow truck to remove the vehicle from the scene and traced the registration back to Melvin Travis, 55, of Washington Township. Authorities then requested Hackettstown Police be notified in case Travis headed that way.
About 30 minutes after Myers made the initial call, he requested the local K-9 unit be dispatched to the scene. He was told it was not available, and then requested the Morris County K-9 Unit.
The police report said the K-9 unit was used because of a potential crash victim, coupled with frigid temperatures made cause for concern of the driver’s safety.
Five minutes after the request was made, a conversation between dispatch and officers at the scene revealed Travis’ home was contacted—now 35 minutes after the initial call was made—and the police had “no luck.”
Travis told Patch last Friday that he did indeed leave his car behind, because he claimed it was only a blown out tire and he felt he could leave the vehicle until the next morning. Travis said he contacted his wife, who came to pick him up as he began walking toward his home.
According to the original report, Travis and the police made contact that night but not until hours later, once the K-9 search had been completed. Travis was issued summonses by mail for leaving the scene of an accident, failure to report an accident, careless driving, and failure to maintain lane.
A court date is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 9 at the Washington Township Municipal Building.