RIDGEFIELD PARK, N.J. – They pulled an elderly couple from their burning home, collared a quartet of muggers following a series of vicious attacks and helped produce a trio of attempted murder arrests in a nightclub shooting – for which several Ridgefield Park police officers were recently honored.
Last year, village officers also:
- Chased down a drunk driver who hit two police cruisers with his vehicle;
- Seized more than $350,000 in suspected drug proceeds in a pair of routine traffic stops;
- Showed restraint in grabbing a street robber wielding a large kitchen knife after he'd terrorized several victims.
Here are their stories:
FIRE RESCUE: Responding to a fire call the night of Feb. 16, 2016, village Officer Kenneth Knebl found the second floor of an Edwin Street house engulfed in flames.
Knebl ran in and discovered a disoriented elderly man in shock standing in the middle of a smoke-filled room, with debris falling down a nearby staircase.
The resident wasn’t alone.
Despite the danger and with no regard for his personal safety, Knebl kept going and found the man’s wife.
Getting out was the final obstacle.
Knebl was looking for a secondary exit when he was joined by Officer Robert Distasi.
Knebl and Distasi, who got themselves and the couple out safely, recently received “Meritorious Service” awards.
GANG ATTACKS: A group of officers teamed up to assemble the details of a vicious, random assault after two village residents were attacked outside their Christie Street home by a group armed with baseball bats in late March 2016.
Soon after, another incident was reported in the immediate area involving the same group.
Before long, village detectives had a person of interest.
The next morning, patrol officers responded to the business district on Main Street on a reported assault. Moments later, another incident was reported on Main Street.
One of the suspects was arrested after a brief struggle.
Village detectives then worked with their colleagues at the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office – and had all four suspects in custody in under 24 hours.
Three were adults and one a juvenile. Nearly three dozen charges included aggravated assault and robbery.
“Exceptional Service” commendations went to Detective Sgt. Brian Hippe and Detectives William Morton, Nicholas Triano and Karl Martin.
NIGHTCLUB SHOOTING : South Hackensack police issued grainy images of suspects after a bouncer was shot in the back at the Player's Club Bar and Grill on July 16, 2016.
Looking at the photos, Officer Nicholas D’Alto recognized the getaway car – which, it turned out, was parked on Brinkerhoff Street.
D’Alto relayed the vehicle registration to headquarters.
Before long, South Hackensack police had identified three suspects and recovered the .38-caliber handgun used in the shooting.
D’Alto, in turn, received a “Letter of Commendation.”
CHASE/CRASHES: What began as a routine traffic stop turned into a chase – with the driver ramming two occupied police cars before officers caught him and found five ounces of pot and $2,200 in suspected drug proceeds in the car.
Officer Kenneth Knebl pulled over the Mercedes Benz driver on Teaneck Road near Brinkerhoff Street on April 8, 2016 and smelled alcohol on his breath.
Ordered out of the car, the Cliffside Park driver instead hit the gas.
Kenble and Officer Robert Distasi chased the car through a residential section of the village, with their quarry ramming two police cruisers before making his way to southbound Route 95.
Knebl pursued him to the New Jersey Turnpike toll plaza in Secaucus and took him into custody with assistance from other officers.
A search of the car turned up the pot and cash.
The driver was charged with 10 criminal offenses and issued 30 traffic summonses.
For what Police Chief Edward Rose said was “composure, restraint, and professionalism while dealing with an intoxicated subject driving in a reckless manner and attempting to cause harm to [them],” Knebl and Distasi each received a Letter of Commendation.
DISARMED ROBBER : A man armed with a large kitchen knife was becoming more aggressive as he robbed innocent victims of money and cellphones on residential streets on either side of Route 46 on Dec. 9, 2016.
He forced one of his terrified victims to withdraw cash from an ATM.
Officer Joseph Avila spotted the robber on Teaneck Road, notified his colleagues and approached him.
As the officers converged, the robber threw the knife down and was arrested.
For using what Rose said was “the utmost restraint and professionalism,” Avila and the other officers – Sgt. Anthony Sgroi, Detective Brian Lyons and Officers Darcy Rellinger and Nicholas D’Alto – each received “Meritorious Service” awards.
HIDDEN CASH: “Training and experience” helped Officer Bradley Gilmore detect a hidden compartment during a Route 46 traffic stop that turned up $294,000 in suspected drug proceeds, Police Chief Edward Rose said.
Gilmore stopped the Ford Escape last Dec. 28 and “observed aftermarket sheet metal on the rear underneath of the vehicle,” Rose said.
A Bergen County Sheriff’s canine indicated drugs in the SUV, after which Gilmore found the secret stash.
Gilmore, in turn, received an “Honorable Service” award.
ELECTRONICS BURGLAR : Responding to a burglar alarm call at C&A Marketing on Bergen Turnpike on April 3, 2016, Officer Dale Madan spotted a vehicle that appeared out of place for that time and place.
He radioed for backup as the driver pulled away.
Sgt. Justin Tress stopped the car moments later.
In it, Tress and Madan found high-end electronics stolen from C&A.
They arrested the vehicle occupants – for which each received a “Letter of Commendation.”
NARCAN SAVE : Officers using Narcan revived an overdosing heroin addict at a Bergen Avenue home on Oct. 25, 2016 after family members called police.
Officer Kenneth Knebl administered the heroin antidote while Sgt. Justin Tress and Officers Robert Distasi and Joseph Avila did rescue breathing.
Eventually, the victim’s pulse became stronger. He gradually regained consciousness and began breathing on his own.
The Ridgefield Park Volunteer Ambulance Corps took him to Holy Name Medical Center, and he made a full recovery.
Tress, Distasi, Avila and Knebl each received a “Letter of Commendation.”
CAR BURGLAR : Officers were dispatched to College Place on a report of a car burglar the night of Nov. 11, 2016.
Sgt. Justin Tress and Officers Harry Marquez and Nicholas Perna spoke with the caller, got a description of their suspect and began patrolling the area.
A short time later, Tress spotted him walking a dog. His colleagues arrived and they took the suspect into custody.
Receiving a “Letter of Commendation” each were Tress, Marquez and Perna.
SECRET STASH : A routine traffic stop by Officer Steven Fernandez on eastbound Route 46 on Nov. 10, 2016 turned up $56,281 in suspected drug proceeds, as well as cocaine, leading to the arrest of an alleged courier.
Fernandez was interviewing the Toyota Avalon driver when he smelled raw marijuana, looked a little closer and found a hidden compartment where the cash was stashed in the center console, along with several bags of cocaine.
Hernandez, in turn, received a “Letter of Commendation.”
STORE BURGLAR : Responding to a burglary at a Teaneck Road store on June 4, 2016, Officer (now Detective) Brian Lyons chased down and arrested a suspect who ran out the back and behind an apartment complex carrying the proceeds and armed with a bat.
Lyons received a “Letter of Commendation.”