A former South Jersey police officer who was off-duty last year when he slammed into a utility pole while driving drunk, killing his female passenger, was sentenced Friday to four years in state prison.
Justin Rodriguez, 26, of Burlington Township, was sentenced by Superior Court Judge Terrence R. Cook on one count of vehicular homicide as part of a plea deal.
An investigation found that Rodriguez had consumed several alcoholic drinks in the hours before the Sept. 23 collision, which killed Ariana Williams, 27, of Florence, the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office said in a statement. Toxicology tests revealed that Rodriguez had a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit.
Rodriguez was ejected from the car and was transported to Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton, where he was treated for three days.
At the time of the crash, Rodriguez was off-duty from the Burlington Township Police Department, where he had worked for 11 months. He was suspended without pay and lost his job after pleading guilty on May 3.
"You, as a police officer, knew better and should have taken a different course of action," Cook told Rodriguez in court, according to a video of the sentencing posted on the Cherry Hill Courier-Post's website. "But you didn't."
The judge said he thought Rodriguez was remorseful and regretted what he did. He said Rodriguez's record showed no prior incidents involving alcohol.
"What I think is that you've made the biggest mistake of your life," the judge said.
The judge suspended Rodriguez's driver's license for 10 years after he gets out of prison.
Williams' family and friends spoke for nearly an hour at the hearing, telling the judge how she brought happiness to their lives and describing the heartache her death has caused, prosecutors said in their statement.