News Item:
Michael Cassella pleads guilty to causing 'senseless death' of Mt. Arlington police officer Joseph Wargo
01/09/2013
From fop.net: Joseph Wargo was President of New Jersey Lodge #78– Mt. Arlington.

MOUNT ARLINGTON, NJ — A Howell resident calmly admitted Friday to causing the death in 2011 of Mount Arlington Police Officer Joseph Wargo by speeding on Route 80 and crashing into the victim's patrol car while he was high on a mix of heroin, morphine and Xanax.

Six weeks after he lost a motion to suppress evidence found in his borrowed Mitsubishi Lancer, defendant Michael Cassella, 30, pleaded guilty in state Superior Court, Morristown, to driving under the influence of drugs and the aggravated manslaughter on Oct. 16, 2011, of Wargo, 38.

Accompanied by her father and sister, Wargo's widow, Amy, silently watched the hearing and declined comment afterward. Six Mount Arlington police officers and two state troopers were present, along with Morris County Acting Prosecutor Fredric M. Knapp. Mount Arlington police Lt. Edward LaBruno said the presence was a show of support for the family and love for the popular officer with whom he dined a few days before his death on the side of Route 80 in Roxbury.

County Assistant Prosecutor John McNamara Jr. has recommended a plea bargain of 20 years in prison, with 85 percent or 17 years to be served before parole consideration. An agreement was reached for Cassella, who was accused as recently as December of using heroin, to be taken into custody immediately after his plea and held in the Morris County jail until sentencing on March 1.

LaBruno said he would have preferred a deal for 30 years in prison but believes the sentence recommendation of 20 years is fair. Aggravated manslaughter is punishable upon conviction by up to 30 years.

"I'm just glad the family didn't have to sit through a trial which would have brought up a lot of feelings, feelings that we have too. I believe the prosecutor's office did a great job," LaBruno said.

Though he agreed to plead guilty, Cassella acknowledged under questioning by defense lawyer Donald Lomurro that he has no independent memory of the crash. But he agreed that all the evidence he received, from toxicology to accident reconstruction reports, shows he is guilty.

"If you look at the totality of the evidence....the blood work...to lab reports...do you believe you were guilty of this offense?" Lomurro asked.

"I do," Cassella replied.

He acknowledged that he spent the day traveling to Newark to purchase drugs and late at night somehow found himself on Route 80 in Roxbury though he meant to travel home to Monmouth County. He agreed that he passed several vehicles, whose occupants estimated he was traveling at least 90 mph, and lost control of the Mitsubishi on Route 80 west.

Cassella crossed the center median of the highway where he slammed into Wargo's eastbound vehicle on Route 80. He had a so–called "black box" in his car that showed he was driving 89 mph at the point of impact with Wargo's vehicle.

When state troopers arrived, they found him sitting dazed in the car, in which an empty bottle of methadone was found in the console. A passerby directed police attention to a patch of woods off the highway where Wargo's patrol car had been propelled.

Superior Court Judge Robert Gilson, who took the plea, had conducted a lengthy hearing on the defense request to suppress evidence of the methadone bottle and some statements Cassella gave police. He ruled in November that the evidence was admissible at a potential trial.

Knapp, the acting prosecutor, extended condolences to the Wargo family.

"The senseless death of Officer Wargo warrants a strong response from the criminal justice system. All members of the Morris County and state law enforcement communities grieve his passing and we extend our heartfelt sympathy to his family."

Wright, Peggy. "Michael Cassella pleads guilty to causing 'senseless death' of Mt. Arlington police officer Joseph Wargo". Daily Record. January 4, 2013. http://www.dailyrecord.com/article/20130104/NJNEWS/301040046/Man–pleads–guilty–causing–senseless–death–Mt–Arlington–officer?nclick_check=1