By Rebecca Panico, NJ.com
The off-duty New Jersey State Police trooper who struck and killed a 14-year-old girl while driving in Westfield in 2017 is facing a lawsuit from the teen’s family accusing him of texting a woman he met on Tinder just before the crash.
While the trooper was not charged by authorities in the crash, the family of 14-year-old Terry DiFalco filed the suit against Alexander Gelfand months after the crash. Multiple depositions have been taken since.
“I had fun. You’re sweet and I want to see you again,” Gelfand, 36, texted to a woman whose house he was coming from after meeting her for the first time on the dating app, Tinder, according to filings in the pending civil case. The text was sent two minutes before the first 911 call reporting the crash, according to the suit.
TAPinto Westfield first reported on the lawsuit this week. The suit also names others as defendants, including the New Jersey State Police and Westfield Board of Education.
Gelfand, who was not named by authorities, told the family’s attorney in his deposition for the civil suit that he was looking straight ahead before the crash and didn’t see DiFalco as she was crossing Central Avenue in Westfield on the night of March 4, 2017. DiFalco had been participating in a scavenger hunt for Westfield High School’s Theatre Department.
“There’s certain things that stick out in your mind, and during the accident — well, just prior to the accident I was looking straight ahead,” Gelfand said, according to court records reviewed by NJ Advance Media. “And honestly if I wasn’t looking straight ahead, I would feel very different about the situation and I’d have a much more difficult time because I’d feel like it was my fault for not paying attention, but that’s not the case. I was looking straight ahead.”
He couldn’t recall if he had the phone on his leg or in the cupholder at the time of the crash, according to the court records. He also couldn’t recall if he had pressed the voice activation button within the text message to spell out his response or when he began to spell or type the text.
An attorney from the law firm representing Gelfand and the State Police did not respond to a request for comment. The lawyer for the family also did not respond.
Gelfand was driving an unmarked police vehicle back from his Tinder date’s home in Matawan at the time of the crash, he said during the deposition. Gelfand put his State Police uniform on shortly after the crash because he thought it was the “appropriate” thing to do, he said.
“I felt that it was appropriate because I was in a State Police vehicle,” he said in his deposition. “I felt that it was also for safety purposes and it was also to my memory 17 or 18 degrees out, it was cold and the uniform, it was warmer than my clothes were.”
Two attorneys from the State Police union were also sent to the scene and Gelfand said he “probably” signed a form to retain them at the site of the crash, according to the court records. Gelfand said he’s unsure who sent the attorneys, but he did report the crash and location to a sergeant soon after it happened, he said.
The Union County Prosecutor’s Office announced Gelfand wouldn’t face any charges about two months after the crash.
It’s unclear when the crash occurred and when the first phone call to 911 was made. The police report marks both as occurring at the same time – 8:31 p.m, according to remarks made by attorneys during Gelfand’s deposition.
DiFalco was wearing a light, pale blue jacket on the night of the crash, the family’s attorney Angel DeFillipo said in court documents. Gelfand said he did not call 911 since he assumed a woman who was yelling at the scene did.
After the crash, Gelfand said he pulled over a short distance ahead and asked two boys who were on the sidewalk near the impact if they were okay. He said he went over to DiFalco a few seconds later to check on her, but she wasn’t responsive. He also said he put his hand on DiFalco’s shoulder and she didn’t respond.
After spending what he recalled as about 10 seconds with DiFalco, he then held his hands out to stop traffic and then contacted his sergeant, he said.
DiFalco was pronounced dead at the scene.
An attorney representing the school district did not immediately respond to a request for comment.