A Hudson County driver has been sentenced to five years in state prison in connection with a marijuana-involved crash that killed his 22-year-old friend from North Bergen, authorities said.
The fatal crash occurred in October 2019 on the New Jersey Turnpike in Mansfield.
Johnalex Grullon, 21, of Union City admitted to being high on marijuana and driving recklessly on the day of the crash, according to Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina.
Grullon and his friends were returning from a trip to South Philadelphia, where they had traveled to buy cheesesteaks.
Grullon pleaded guilty last month to vehicular homicide and assault by auto in exchange for the five-year prison term, Coffina said.
His plea-bargained sentence was handed down on Wednesday in Mount Holly Superior Court by Judge Philip E. Haines.
A statement was read to the court from the victim's father who said: “I feel like I died when my son died. The pain this accident caused will never heal.”
Grullon acknowledged in court that he had been smoking marijuana in the car prior to the crash, as well as driving in a reckless manner, the prosecutor said. He did not refute the findings of toxicology tests that indicated, at the time of the crash, he had marijuana in his system at a level unfit to safely operate a motor vehicle, according to Coffina.
“As marijuana becomes legal in New Jersey, we urge our residents to view this case as a cautionary tale about the dangers of driving while high,” Coffina said. “Even if using marijuana has been decriminalized, driving while impaired has not, and doing so can lead to preventable tragedies like the death of Mohamedam Elbezaz here, and the serious consequences that this defendant now must face. Our hearts go out to the family of Mr. Elbezaz.”
An investigation found that Grullon had two passengers in his Honda Accord on Oct. 19, 2019, when his vehicle veered off the roadway, struck the guardrail along the shoulder and spun across all lanes before hitting the concrete median barrier and re-entering traffic, colliding with another car, authorities said.
Grullon and the other occupants were not wearing seatbelts and were ejected from the vehicle.
Elbezaz, 21, the rear-seat passenger, was pronounced dead at the scene.
As part of the plea agreement, Grullon must pay nearly $13,000 in restitution to Elbezaz’s family for funeral and other expenses.
Grullon was prosecuted by Assistant Prosecutor Josh Dennis, supervisor of the BCPO Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Unit.
The investigation was conducted by the New Jersey State Police.
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