TOMS RIVER – Toms River police, corroborated with witness accounts, state that a Board of Education member accidentally ran his truck off the road after pursuing someone who cut him off.
Daniel Leonard, 42, of Beachwood, was charged with reckless driving and failing to maintain a lane on July 6, police reported.
Leonard has since disputed these charges, and has hired an attorney to represent him.
According to a police report, Leonard was driving north on Hooper Avenue. When traffic merged near Edken Lane, his truck was cut off by a white Audi. This led to a pursuit where Leonard allegedly chased the car, lost control of his own vehicle, and wound up totaling it against a tree in an embankment off the intersection with Bay Avenue.
Three independent witnesses at the scene told the responding officer that Leonard’s truck was speeding and appeared to be chasing the Audi. It left the roadway when it was going too fast to safely negotiate an offramp.
Police said that Leonard’s version of the story was that he was cut off by the Audi near the intersection with Edkin Avenue. He said he was following behind the Audi after that at a normal rate of speed but was then cut off again when the Audi went east on Bay Avenue.
“Driver #1’s (Leonard) statement changed multiple times from his original statement,” the officer wrote in the report. “Driver #1 was observed to be agitated and uncooperative with police during the crash investigation.”
Meanwhile, the driver of the Audi, Robert Mason, had gone to the police department to report the incident.
His version was that he was in the middle lane going northbound on Hooper, stopped at the intersection at Edkin. When the lanes merged, his Audi was in front of Leonard’s truck. The truck’s driver, Leonard, began honking and tailgating, according to Mason’s description on the police report.
At one point, Mason said he turned off into the TD Bank near Caudina Avenue but claimed that the truck followed, so he got back onto Hooper, where the chase continued on the shoulder.
“As Mason approached the exit ramp for eastbound Bay Avenue, he suddenly entered the ramp at a high rate of speed. In doing so, vehicle #1 attempted to follow, but was unsuccessful,” the police report stated. “Mason added that he was fearful of his life as vehicle #1 was following him.”
The officer writing the report stated that Leonard was at fault due to his conflicting statements, his demeanor when speaking with police, and that the distance his truck travelled into the embankment was indicative of a high rate of speed.
Leonard and his passenger, Christopher McGuire of Bayville, suffered minor injuries at the scene. They refused medical attention and informed police that they would go to Community Medical Center in Toms River on their own.
On social media, Leonard disputed the charges and said he will be represented by attorney S. Karl Mohel. He also criticized online articles about the incident.
He noted that the police report does not say “road rage,” as was noted in other articles, and that it doesn’t mention the road conditions. He said it was raining that day and there was gravel on the turn.
“I nearly died and was not arrested, had seat belt on, not drinking, full insurance and registration and damaged no property, people or vehicles,” he said. “I held the steering wheel steady and tried to brake numerous times as you can see…but 9,000 pounds on wet grass and a gravely turn won.”
He said the driver of the Audi hit the brakes just before the crash, which contributed to his loss of control. He asserted that the driver fabricated the story to the police to cover himself once he saw the truck behind him go off the road.
He said he was agitated at the scene for obvious reasons, having a totaled truck and being in a serious crash.
Leonard noted that the only reason a relatively minor crash would get media coverage is because of his position as an elected official.
The legal goings-on of elected officials do tend to make the news.
Former Board of Education member Robert Onofrietti had accused him of stalking two years ago after seeing him driving by his house. This issue made the news in several venues. Police responded to the scene but saw no criminal activity. After that, Onofrietti said he and Leonard sat down and discussed it like adults.
“We were always friends before and we discovered there were people who had a vested interest in having us fight,” he said. “It has been dropped and I consider Dan a friend.”