TRENTON, N.J. – A Monmouth County, N.J., man was sentenced today to 41 months in prison for driving his car while impaired by the sleep medication Ambien, causing the death of Donald Merce in a head-on collision, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Dennis Smentkowski, 47, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Joel A. Pisano to an Information charging him with one count of involuntary manslaughter. Judge Pisano imposed the sentence today in Trenton federal court.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Smentkowski was driving his Ford Explorer southbound on Oceanport Avenue near the East Gate of Fort Monmouth at 7 a.m. on May 6, 2008, when he drove across a double yellow line into oncoming traffic and collided head-on with a vehicle driven by Merce, 58, who was on his way to his job as principal of the Markham Place School in Little Silver.
At the time of the collision with Merce’s vehicle, Smentkowski was impaired by the sleep aid drug Zolpidem, a Schedule IV controlled substance, commonly known as Ambien, which he had taken prior to getting into his car.
Smentkowski admitted he had ingested at least four 12.5 mg dosages of Ambien in the hour or so before the collision, four times the recommended dosage. Smentkowski admitted he consciously disregarded the substantial risk to the safety and the lives of others by operating a motor vehicle while his ability to drive was impaired by Ambien. He also admitted his actions caused the death of Merce, who was killed instantly from the injuries he suffered during the collision.
As a part of Fort Monmouth at the time, the site of the collision falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government. The facility has since closed.
In addition to the prison term, Judge Pisano sentenced Smentkowski to three years of supervised release.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of FBI-Red Bank, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Ward; the former Fort Monmouth Police, U.S. Department of Defense; and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office under the direction of Acting Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni, with the investigation leading to today’s sentencing.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Frazer, Chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s General Crimes Unit in Newark.
Defense counsel: Charles J. Uliano Esq., West Long Branch, N.J.