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Driver Fell Asleep Before Christmas Crash, Witness Report Says

Official crash report from Dec. 25 incident on Schooley's Mountain Road reveals more details behind hours-long search for Washington Twp. resident.

The guardrail on Schooley's Mountain Road where a crash occurred on Dec. 25, 2013.
The guardrail on Schooley's Mountain Road where a crash occurred on Dec. 25, 2013.

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.

Cardigan7 January 08, 2014 at 05:30 PM
To johnlv: The Patch would have to be nuts to talk to Mr. Travis about a "different story" after the abuse they got from "Kevin Joseph", "Debbie Davies", et al.
johnlv January 08, 2014 at 06:32 PM
The Patch should be in search of the truth...and the truth is that this Pastor is not a liar. He simply had a flat tire, why is this so hard for the Patch to get. There is no truth to the so called witness statements...it's all made up for some ungodly reason. Emphasis on "Ungodly"...
Cardigan7 January 09, 2014 at 09:12 AM
To Kevin N: This is the second time you have blamed your behavior on "sarcaism", which, looking at a Qwerty layout, wouldn't seem to be a typo. Do you mean sarcoidosis?
Cardigan7 January 09, 2014 at 09:19 AM
To johnlv: Are you saying the devil was afoot in LV on xmas night, waylaying travelers to bear false witness?
Frequent flyer January 09, 2014 at 09:32 AM
If any of this were true, it would have been a good idea for the Patch to report this story from the beginning. It's a bunch of malarkey. The Patch is a disgusting gossip rag. For no good reason, they displayed pictures of the caskets of those boys who drown on Budd Lake, they posted pictures of the home of an elderly couple in Chester after a horrible tragedy. They're instigating crazy comments once again. These people have families who deserve privacy. I'd like to see this sick and twisted way of reporting local news go away. As far as I'm concerned, this story is just constant speculation. Leave this family alone and let the courts decide what to do about a situation none of us know anything about.
The Stig January 09, 2014 at 09:43 AM
@FF - Crashing your car on a public roadway is News, not someone's Private Business. If you want privacy, do go out driving when you're half asleep or in the bag. Check the number of US fatalities due to drunk driving and then tell us that someone who does this deserves "privacy." Oh, and when you crash your car, don't flee the scene so the cops have to call in the troops to try to find you on a cold winters night. More wasted Public Resources.
Frequent flyer January 09, 2014 at 09:48 AM
You missed the point. You don't know the facts. You don't know that he was drunk. And, you may want to proof read before posting your OPINION.
Jason Koestenblatt (Editor) January 09, 2014 at 09:57 AM
Thanks for the comments, everyone. To the folks commenting that Patch is lying or I'm making the story up, so on and so forth, please understand that all three stories posted here were transcribed from written reports or conversations with the police. As noted earlier, I also interviewed Mr. Travis prior to the first story running on Dec. 27. As this story indicates, further witness statements were given to police on Dec. 30 (after the original report ran). I was not able to secure the audio files of dispatch calls from that night until a few days later, and the above report needed an Open Public Records Act request, which takes time to process. All that being said, these are public documents available to both media and citizens alike. You can say Patch is lying all you want (which is an accusation, by the way), but we're really just relaying the information from public officials to our readers. Thanks again for joining the conversation and I hope this clarifies the situation for you.
Frequent flyer January 09, 2014 at 10:14 AM
Jason, thank you for your last comment. When I wrote, "It's a bunch of malarkey", I made that statement because we really don't know all the facts. I would like to be respectful to you, but I feel this story was reported in an accusatory fashion and prematurely. That's just my opinion. I mentioned two other stories. It's my opinion that those two other stories were truly unnecessary and very hurtful to the families. If at some point it becomes apparent that Mr Travis was, in fact, driving under the influence that would be important news. We don't know that to be true now. Even though I have chosen to comment, at the very least it would be nice to see the comment section of the Patch omitted. The Patch should be an asset to our community, not something that constantly pits us against one another and divides. Unfortunately, I feel that is what you've created.
Bill Hanson January 09, 2014 at 10:15 AM
@FF Nobody said he was drunk. Many people have an opinion, from the factual information, that he might have been. There are many facts. His car hit a guard rail, a Good Samaritan stopped and asked if he needed help, the Good Samaritan called 911, Mr Travis left the scene, he went to a friends house and called police 3 hours after hitting guard rail. If you have other facts that dispute these it would be very helpful to the discussion to share them.
Frequent flyer January 09, 2014 at 10:29 AM
@Bill...I do believe that whether Mr Travis actually "crashed" his car into the guardrail is still in dispute. I don't have any "facts" to discuss. I also don't believe it's helpful for those of us who don't have the real facts to discuss this situation via this venue. That's my whole point. Again, this is my opinion. Of course, you may differ in opinion. That's your right. Be well and have a nice day. I won't comment again.
The Stig January 09, 2014 at 10:33 AM
@BH - In a court of law, his statement about "a few drinks," but no sobriety tests would have him found Not Guilty, but if he wasn't worried about failing a test, why would he leave the scene of the accident, especially once he was offered help and saw the police? As for @FF's claim that even the crash is in dispute, we're done if you cannot accept an obvious fact. And by his logic, unless you were there to witness the whole incident, you don't have "the facts," and therefore cannot discuss this. What A Joke.
Bill Hanson January 09, 2014 at 10:34 AM
@FF Your opinion is worth the same as anybody else's. Maybe more will come out in court tonight. Just a side note, I said his car hit the guard rail not"crashed" into guardrail. Mr Travis said he hit the guardrail when he got the flat tire. Unless you do not believe him I would say that was a fact.
lv1 January 09, 2014 at 10:49 AM
Bottomline, he'll never be identified as a drunk driver, although he did a sparkling imitation of one that evening.
Frequent flyer January 09, 2014 at 10:55 AM
Although I wrote I wouldn't comment again, I do want to thank Bill for replying to me an, more importantly, to apologize to "Stig" for the way I initially responded to "Stig's" comment. This is precisely what I'm referring to when I write that the way this venue operates divides our community. I'm really out now. Peace all.
lv1 January 09, 2014 at 10:58 AM
And I admire The Patch standing up to this bullying from Team Travis. I expect a court story tomorrow. I also would like to know from the BOE what is the process going forward with him driving a schoolbus, as I assume he is as I type.
Kathlyn Carter January 09, 2014 at 11:00 AM
Jason, you can't please all of the people all of the time. In fact, in your type of business when people don't like what they read and/or have motive to not want to believe the facts, it's usually the messenger who gets shot. You are much more of a true journalist than most of the media who claim to be reporters but actually provide opinions. There are two sides to every story and that is exactly how you reported this story. You made no judgement and gave no opinion of your own as to the veracity of the police reports or the veracity of the story told to you by the Reverend. It is up to the reader to form their own opinion and THAT IS THE WAY THAT ALL NEWS SHOULD BE REPORTED. Keep up the good work!
History WT January 09, 2014 at 11:37 AM
Yes kudos to Jason on his professionalism and grace in in the face of "bullying", good word. FYI, I just got a tweet on my # EldersofZion account that the court date has been moved to the end of the month.
JG January 09, 2014 at 01:15 PM
Jason- Thank you for your reporting, and all that you do for LV. I am sorry to see you getting attacked for what you have written, which is all public information and fact. It is apparent it is a hot button topic for many. I hope you know that you have many supporters who appreciate what you do.
Jason Koestenblatt (Editor) January 09, 2014 at 01:34 PM
Thanks for the comments and support!
Shoeless Joe January 09, 2014 at 01:35 PM
Honestly, if there was a Pulitzer in this world, this could be nominated, it is the kind of detailed, brave and courteous reporting we should see more of when corruption and coverup are alleged. Most reporters don't have to answer to personal accusations in their comment section, but Jason answered each one patiently and with grace. Clone him out to the 200 Patches and they would be taking over the country instead of struggling.
Jason Koestenblatt (Editor) January 09, 2014 at 02:57 PM
Actually, according to the Washington Township municipal court, the date has been moved to Jan. 30 at 4:30 p.m. Thanks!
LRT February 01, 2014 at 01:18 PM
Jason Koestenblatt What was the outcome?
Shoeless Joe February 02, 2014 at 02:30 PM
I have heard that he lawyered up with Selvaggi of Kings Highway fame and the court date was moved to February 6. Take this with a grain of "anonymous internet guy saying he heard."
LRT February 09, 2014 at 11:21 AM
Outcome?
Jason Koestenblatt (Editor) February 09, 2014 at 11:39 AM
The court date was moved to Feb. 20, according to the folks at town hall. Thanks for the comment!
Patch Rope February 21, 2014 at 07:49 AM
any update?
Jason Koestenblatt (Editor) February 24, 2014 at 10:26 AM
Sorry for the delayed response, all. The court date for this situation has been moved to April 3 at the attorney's request, according to Washington Township's municipal court.
Not Domino February 25, 2014 at 12:33 PM
It's taking that attorney a long time to think up a creative enough explanation for his client's behavior. Not surprised.
Patch Rope April 03, 2014 at 10:36 PM
Another postponement ?

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