By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
Fair Haven’s former fire chief pleaded guilty to drunken driving Monday, putting an end to legal troubles caused by a November accident that quickly turned into a search-and-rescue effort when he fled the scene and jumped off the Oceanic Bridge.
Shaun Foley, 27, entered the plea in Rumson Municipal Court before Long Branch Municipal Judge George Cieri. Three other charges reckless driving, failure to report and leaving the scene of an accident were thrown out as part of the plea deal. Foley, who was also a Rumson Police dispatcher and part-time police officer, was ordered to pay about $675 in fines, undergo a state-mandated evaluation and lost his license for seven months.
“I just want to apologize to everybody,” he said in court. “I embarrassed myself, definitely, but both organizations and my family.”
He added that he was thankful that even though his crash caused a second accident on River Road, nobody was injured as a result of what he said was “just a pile of bad decisions.”
With his father in attendance, Foley, in a black suit, said little about what happened on November 22, the night of the accident. He told the court he drank four or five bottles of beer, though he didn’t know the exact amount, at Murray MacGregor’s Publik House on River Road before leaving in his chief’s vehicle to go home.
His blood alcohol content was later measured at .14 percent, according to records, nearly double the state limit of .08.
According to police, Foley crashed into a utility pole near Borough Hall before fleeing on foot about a mile west to Oceanic Bridge, where he jumped and set off a huge rescue effort involving more than a different agencies and three helicopters. Meanwhile, a second vehicle, driven by an Ocean Township man, had crashed into the pole brought down by Foley. No injuries were reported.
Afterward, Foley resigned as Fire Haven fire chief and quit his job as dispatcher and special officer in Rumson.
Foley’s attorney, Mitchell Ansell, said that night changed Foley’s life for the better. In early December, Foley voluntarily checked into an “intensive, one-on-one” outpatient clinic in Ocean, Ansell said, and continues to go there. Ansell said Foley has a problem with alcohol and intends to continue seeking treatment.
“He clearly understands this is the way he has to live his life now,” Ansell said. “His life changed and I think it changed for the better.”
The DWI charge was not Foley’s first. According to Rumson Alternate Prosecutor James Ronan, Foley lost his license for 30 days in 2002, when he was 19 year old, following an alcohol-related incident while driving in Little Silver. Ronan referred to the offense as a “baby DWI,” which he said gives the state a way to punish those who drink and drive underage but who don’t meet the threshold for an intoxication charge. If they are over the limit, they are prosecuted as if it were a regular DWI. Even the smallest trace of alcohol is punishable under the statute, Ronan said.
Because he was below the legal limit in the 2002 incident, Foley’s formal record will reflect Monday’s outcome as his first DWI offense, Ronan said.
As deputy chief in 2008, Foley was involved in another car accident, again in a borough-owned vehicle, but alcohol wasn’t a factor, according to police reports.
Ansell said Foley has been deeply embarrassed by the November incident and paid a heavy price. He’s considering joining the military now to turn his life around, Ansell said. Foley, who isn’t married and has no children, has already started paperwork with the U.S. Marines, Ansell said.
Throughout the hearing, Foley conducted himself in a formal manner. He stood up straight every time he spoke to the judge, looked him in the eye and ended his statements with “your honor.” After he handed his license over to the court, Foley left quickly to pay his fines and got in the car with his father and left.
To avoid conflicts of interest, court administrators brought in Cieri preside over the case and had Ronan replace Prosecutor Mike Halfacre, who is also the mayor of Fair Haven.