CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE, N.J. - A New Jersey state trooper, acquitted this week of the most serious charges involving a collision that killed two sisters, pleaded guilty yesterday to minor motor-vehicle violations in the case.
Robert Higbee, 37, of Somers Point, was charged with double counts of vehicular homicide in the Sept. 27, 2006, deaths of Jacqueline Becker, 17, and Christina Becker, 19. While chasing a speeder, he drove his police cruiser at 65 m.p.h. in a 35 m.p.h. zone and ran a stop sign at Stagecoach and Tuckahoe Roads in the Marmora section of Upper Township.
Higbee's cruiser plowed into the Beckers' minivan, killing the Upper Township teenagers instantly. He has been suspended without pay since his indictment in February 2007.
A jury on Monday ruled that the incident was an accident and found Higbee not guilty of the death-by-auto charges.
The trooper returned to court yesterday to face charges of careless driving and failing to stop or yield at a stop sign. The court agreed to downgrade the driving violation to a charge of unsafe driving, for which Higbee was fined $150, a $250 state surcharge, and $39 in court fees. On the other charge, he was fined $250 plus $39 in fees.
Superior Court Judge Raymond Batten could have sentenced Higbee to 30 days in county jail and a period of community service, but instead said, "Any term of incarceration in the county jail would yield no additional public utility."
Batten called Higbee a "good person otherwise engaged in a lifetime of usefulness and doing good deeds," and said that a harsher sentence would have "violated the spirit" of the jury's verdict.
David Meyer, Cape May County first assistant prosecutor, told the court that he had no objection to Batten's finding. So did Caesar Caiafa, grandfather of the victims, who was at the hearing and declined comment.
D. William Subin, Higbee's lawyer, said that his client was seeking to return to active duty with the state police. It was unclear whether Higbee's motor-vehicle violations would affect that effort.
Higbee must undergo an internal investigation and review, as well as a series of retraining requirements, before he can be reinstated, a state police spokesman said.