Patrolman Joseph Wargo
Mount Arlington Police Department, New Jersey
End of Watch: Sunday, October 16, 2011
Tour of Duty: 10 years
Badge Number: Not available
Cause of Death: Vehicular assault
Date of Incident: October 16, 2011
Weapon Used: Automobile; Alcohol involved
Suspect Info: Charged with manslaughter
Agency Contact Information
Acting Chief Keith Licata
Mount Arlington Police Department
520 Altenbrand Avenue
Mount Arlington, NJ 07856
Phone: (973) 398-2100
Patrolman Joseph Wargo was killed when his patrol car was struck head-on by a drunk driver on I-80, near exit 30, at about 1:00 am.
The drunk driver was traveling at a high rate of speed when he lost control and crossed the median. The vehicle struck Patrolman Wargo’s patrol car head-on and pushed it into a wooded area. Patrolman Wargo was flown to a nearby hospital where he succumbed to his injuries a short time later.
The drunk driver was charged with aggravated manslaughter, vehicular homicide, and several other offenses.
Patrolman Wargo had served with the Mount Arlington Police Department for 10 years. He is survived by his wife.
ROXBURY — A veteran Mount Arlington police officer died this morning in a motor vehicle crash after being hit by a driver under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance, according to the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office.
Officer Joseph Wargo, 38, was on routine patrol and driving east on Interstate 80 shortly after midnight, said Capt. Jeffrey Paul, spokesman for the prosecutor’s office.
Michael Cassella, 29, of Howell, was intoxicated and driving west on Route 80 at a high rate of speed when he lost control of his Mitsubishi Lancer, crossed the median, near Exit 30, and slammed into Wargo’s marked police car, Paul said.
The 2011 Ford Crown Victoria suffered extensive damage and was pushed off the road into the woods. Wargo was flown to Morristown Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 1:25 a.m.
He leaves behind a wife.
Cassella is charged with aggravated manslaughter, vehicular homicide, driving while intoxicated, reckless driving and speeding.
Bail was set at $500,000 . Cassella was taken to Morris County jail in lieu of bail.
Cassella has two prior convictions for drug-related offenses, according to the state’s Department of Corrections website. He spent three months in jail in 2009, the website shows.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic and senseless death of Officer Wargo,” said Prosecutor Robert Bianchi. “He died proudly serving his community. Officer Wargo’s death, as well as the shooting at the officer in Mountain Lakes on Friday, again underscores the dangers that all of our police officers face each day. On behalf of the men and women of the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office and the entire law enforcement community, I extend our prayers and condolences to Officer Wargo’s family, friends and the Mount Arlington Police Department.”
Wargo was president of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 78 in Mount Arlington and had served in the borough police department for more than 10 years, Mayor Art Ondish confirmed.
Keith Licata, the borough’s acting police chief, said of Wargo: "Joe was a fun-loving guy with a heart of gold. He would help anybody and he was a very dedicated police officer."
Sunny Shah, owner of Metro Mart on Howard Boulevard, said Wargo would often stop by the convenience store during his shift to buy ice coffee or chewing tobacco.
Shah described Wargo as an easygoing man who genuinely wanted to hear stories about Shah’s family.
"He’d always be joking around with people," Shah said. "I’m going to miss him."
“It’s a tragedy for Mount Arlington,” Ondish said. “He’s a member of the family. This is not something you ever want to get a phone call about.”
Melissa Huizenga, a friend of Wargo’s, said the 37-year-old officer’s imposing physical stature was matched by his outsized personality.
“He was great fun, a big guy, loud,” Huizinga said. “He had a great sense of humor. He made everybody laugh. He was a great ball of fun. He’s a leader. He’s a great friend. He’ll be missed — he is already.”
The accident remains under investigation. Anyone with information is asked to call the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office at (973) 285-2900, the New Jersey State Police at (973) 347-1000 or the Morris County Sheriff’s Office Crime Stopper Program at (973) COP-CALL.