Clinton Township Police Officer Joseph SanGiovanni knew something was wrong on his drunken-driving patrol last year when he spotted a Chevrolet Trailblazer with a headlight out, changing lanes and rapidly approaching him as he was traveling about 65 mph.
SanGiovanni activated his emergency lights but the vehicle didn't pull over for about a mile before coming to a stop on Interstate 78 west of Exit 15.
"That has us heighten because typically somebody pulls over in about 10 to 20 seconds if they can in a safe manner. It definitely had me thinking something could be going on here," SanGiovanni said.
His instincts and training were right. SanGiovanni, who was joined at the Sept. 3, 2021 scene by Sgt. Andrew McCluskey and Officer Brian Dickson, who had his K-9 partner Uzza in the vehicle, found the man in the vehicle didn't match the picture on his driver’s license, the vehicle was unregistered, the man was armed with a gun that had been used in a New York shooting two months earlier, and he had tried to flee from police.
For safely securing the man and the loaded weapon without anyone being injured, McCluskey, SanGiovanni and Dickson are among 24 first responders and citizens set to be honored May 11 by the 200 Club of Hunterdon County during a 7 p.m. dinner ceremony at Razberry's, 834 Route 12, Frenchtown. The three Clinton Township officers will receive a meritorious service award from the organization, the third time SanGiovanni has been recognized by the club and the second time for McCluskey.
"It is an honor," said SanGiovanni, who praised Clinton Township Police Chief Thomas DeRosa for his support of a proactive police department. He added for him the real significance is that a weapon has been recovered and taken off the street, preventing a small child from being injured by a stray bullet.
Dickson, a 7 1/2-year police veteran, said he doesn't serve as a police officer for the awards or recognition.
"But it is nice when other people do recognize we deal with very dangerous situations like that. The biggest thing out of it is no one got hurt that night. It could have very easily gone south on us," he said.
"With something like this I think it's good for the public of our town to know that bad people do visit their town on a daily basis even if they have no idea they are here," McCluskey, a 14-year Clinton Township police veteran, said. "People may think it's sleepy and quiet here but while they are sleeping there are people, full-grown criminals, who are driving (on three major highways) near their backyards."
"First responders protect and serve us. They are full of integrity and committed to protecting our community. These past few years have been most trying times. Uncertain times. Baffling times. Yet, without hesitation for fear, first responders continue to perform with certainty, safety and efficiency. Let us reciprocate their commitment by supporting them to do their difficult jobs," Peter DeLoria, 200 Club of Hunterdon County president, says in the event program.
Also being honored:
Flemington Police Cpl. Brian McNally and Patrolman Frank Emanuele, both EMTs, will receive a meritorious service award for resuscitating a driver in cardiac arrest who crashed into another vehicle on Sept. 19, 2019.
Chris Colson and his fiancée Emily Kayal will receive lifesaving awards for helping the owner of Oldwick Village Garage by restraining a man with mental illness who was attacking him on May 19, 2019.
Miguel Alves is receiving a lifesaving award and John Frechette a civilian award for helping a 39-year-old woman who experienced sudden cardiac arrest on Route 31 in Clinton Town on Jan. 9, 2020 and drove off the road.
New Jersey State Trooper Ross Soares will receive a certificate of merit for 153 arrests in 2019, in which 80 involved narcotics worth about $80,000 and 13 arrests for DWI.
New Jersey State Police Detective Sgt. Eric Clowes, Detective Sgt. Mathew DiLillo and Detectives Bruce Sanderson and Adam England for their work leading to the arrest of two people involved in multiple armed robberies of gas stations in 2019.
Califon Fire Chief Rich Bergmann for performing lifesaving measures on a man who had collapsed at his home in 2019.
South Branch Emergency Services Agencies Deputy Chief Chris Miller, Rescue Company Lt. Walter Dorf Jr., Boat Operator Chip Milcarek and Rescue Company member Bailey Pyle for rescuing two men from the cold waters at Round Valley Reservoir after their boat capsized in January 2021.
Ralph Barca, owner of Sorella's Pizza and Pasta in Whitehouse Station, for assisting a woman who was being assaulted by a man in the restaurant in 2021.
Marvic Danilo Arguetta Rodriguez, Daniel Calix and Franklin Calix for rescuing an elderly man from a Flemington apartment fire.
Off-duty Ewing Firefighter Oscar Estrada for rescuing and performing CPR on an unconscious driver who crashed into the fuel pumps at the QuickChek on Route 31 in West Amwell.
'It developed very fast'
SanGiovanni said the driver of the Trailblazer gave him some title paperwork but he never gave him a temporary registration card that goes with the license plate or any insurance information.
Based on the driver not stopping in a proper amount of time and the driver’s license not matching his face, San Giovanni felt the driver was being untruthful about some things and asked him to step out of the vehicle for further investigation.
Outside the vehicle the driver appeared distracted and started walking into the nearly 9 p.m. traffic. Police asked for the driver's consent to search the vehicle which he initially granted but then backed off after police started reviewing the form.
"While he's doing this, he's making a lot of fidgeting movements, turning away and he sat down on the guardrail," said SanGiovanni, who noticed a hard square edge under the man's T-shirt.
Concerned it might be a weapon, he told the driver they would have to pat him down for the officers’ safety, but the driver pulled away.
"So we went to detain him, and he pulled away and as he's pulling away he goes and jumps over the guardrail. In the course of that we pull him back over and that's where Officer Dickson sees a gun in his vicinity hit the ground," SanGiovanni said.
"I heard the gun hit the concrete. It fell right underneath him, so then I alerted all the other officers on scene. I screamed 'gun, gun, gun,' probably seven or eight times," Dickson said.
SanGiovanni, who was focused on the driver, only heard him say "gun" once.
The officers gained control and handcuffed the driver after a struggle and Dickson retrieved the handgun which was later identified as a Rock Island Armory M1911-A1 CS, .45 caliber with six hollow-point rounds which had been stolen from Reading, Pennsylvania in 2015 and was used in a New York City shooting in July 2021 in which one person was wounded. Some narcotics were found in the driver's vehicle.
"It all happened within about two to three minutes. It developed very fast," SanGiovanni said.
Suzanne Russell is a breaking news reporter for MyCentralJersey.com covering crime, courts and other mayhem. To get unlimited access, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: Clinton NJ police officers among 24 first responders to be honored