The man who crashed his car on Christmas night, resulting in a several-hour search for the driver in the woods of Schooley’s Mountain, told a witness he had fallen asleep at the wheel after having "a few drinks,” according to a Washington Township Police Department crash report.
Long Valley Patch obtained documents through the Open Public Records Act from the days-long investigation regarding Washington Township resident Melvin Travis, who is accused of leaving the scene of an accident on Christmas night.
The detailed report is a firsthand account from Police Officer Scott Myers and includes a written statement from a witness at the scene who spoke with Travis the night of the incident.
Police issued a report on Thursday, Dec. 26 about the crash
and the summonses that were issued by mail, and also explained that due to cold
temperatures and a missing driver, authorities conducted a K-9 search with
assistance from the Morris County Sheriff’s Office. That report was originally
posted by Long Valley Patch on Friday, Dec. 27 and included statements from
Travis, who wanted to have his side of the story published.
Travis, who is scheduled to appear in municipal court on Thursday, was issued summons by mail for leaving the scene of an accident, failure to report an accident, careless driving, and failure to maintain lane.
However, he claimed one of his vehicle's tires blew out while he was driving, causing the crash. He said a passerby called the police for him and he got a ride home from a friend.
According to the crash report Patch obtained this week, Officer Myers was traveling south and spotted a black man wearing khaki-colored pants and a khaki-colored jacket walking northbound along the southbound shoulder in the area of 327 Schooley's Mountain Road at about 11:10 p.m. Dec. 25.
Myers continued driving southbound and discovered a Volkswagen sedan
that had run off the right side of the road, striking a guardrail just south of
325 Schooley’s Mountain Road, the report said.
Myers said an additional vehicle was parked on the right
side of the road with its hazard lights on and a man was standing near the
Volkswagen, talking on his cell phone, according to the report.
The officer then spoke with the man who said he was heading south
on Schooley’s Mountain Road when he found the Volkswagen had driven off the
roadway and the driver was still in the vehicle, the report said.
The witness at the scene, whose name will not be used for this report, was calling the crash into police dispatch when Myers arrived. The witness told Myers the driver was a black man wearing what appeared to be camouflage clothing and “must have ran off” before Myers arrived, according to the report.
Myers told the witness to stay at the scene and the officer turned around to look for the man he passed a few minutes earlier who matched the description given by the witness.
Myers reversed course but could not find the man walking along the roadway. At the same time, Sgt. Jeff Almer arrived at the scene and began canvassing the area for the driver. A miscommunication between the officers resulted in the witness being told he could leave the scene before Myers was able to speak with him further, the report said.
Audio tapes of police communications that night revealed details of what the initial officers on the scene reported and eventually called for a K-9 unit.
Myers then explained in the crash report why he requested the search unit.
“Due to the extremely low temperature, the chance that Melvin Travis was still on foot somewhere, and the potential for him to sustain injury from exposure, the Morris County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) K-9 Unit was contacted to try and track him."
The search spanned a track along Schooley’s Mountain Road, the adjoining wooded area, and Newburgh Road into Mansfield Township, Myers said. However, Travis was not found. In the meantime, Almer obtained contact information for Travis and called his residence. Almer left a voice message, the report said, requesting Travis to call back immediately.
At 2:45 a.m. on Dec. 26, more than three hours after the
crash, Travis contacted Washington Township Police and spoke with Myers, the
report said. Travis told the officer he crashed his car on the road due to a
flat tire that occurred while he was driving, and planned to pick up the
vehicle later that day.
Myers then told Travis he passed him walking on Schooley’s
Mountain Road about a 10th of a mile from the crash site, and when he turned
around to find him, he was gone, according to the report.
When Myers asked where Travis went, the driver
stated he went to his home at the
northern end of Schooley’s Mountain Road, according to the report.
Travis told Myers he wasn’t at home
at the time of the call, the report said.
But Meyers knew Travis wasn't home since an officer had been stationed outside his residence since shortly after the accident, according to the report. The officer stationed there also knocked on the door several different times and never received a response, the report said.
Travis then told Myers he called a female friend while walking home and was currently at her house, according to the report. She picked him up in the area of Heath Village, the report said.
Investigation Continues, Goes Deeper
Myers called the witness later in the day on Dec. 26 for additional information, but did not hear back from the person until Dec. 30, according to the report.
The witness provided a written statement, saying he was traveling on
Schooley’s Mountain Road when he saw smoke and the skid marks it was rising
from on the pavement, according to the crash report.
The witness said he was flashed by a vehicle that was wedged between
the guardrail and a rock wall, according to the report.
The witness then stated he got out of his vehicle and spoke with Travis, who was dazed and still sitting in the car that was
steaming after hitting the guardrail, then the stone embankment, according to the report. The witness asked Travis if he was injured. Travis said he wasn't hurt and didn't need medical attention, the report said.
Travis told the witness, according to the written report,
that he had fallen asleep at the wheel. The witness asked if he had been drinking and Travis responded by saying, “I had a few drinks," the report said.
Travis then told the witness, according to the report, “you have to help me get out of here,” and asked the witness for a ride home.
The witness declined to give Travis a ride home and instead called 911, the report said. When his back was turned away from the crash vehicle, Travis left the scene on foot, according to the report.
The case is scheduled to go before a judge on Thursday at the Washington Township Municipal Building.