Princeton mayor added as defendant in fatal crash

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PHOTO COURTESY OF SOPHIE DENNEHY
Mark Freda received 9,315 votes to secure the office of Princeton mayor, according to the unofficial results of Tuesday’s general election. He will begin serving his four-year term on Jan. 1, 2021.

Man seeking compensatory and punitive damages through lawsuit

Mayor Mark Freda was added as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by a man whose wife was killed in a motor vehicle collision in November 2021.

David Marcou filed the initial lawsuit in Middlesex County Superior Court in June 2022, as an individual and as the executor of his late wife’s estate. He is suing the defendants for compensatory and punitive damages.

His wife, Jodi Marcou, was driving an Acura MDX sport utility vehicle when it was involved in a head-on collision with a stolen Jeep Grand Cherokee on Princeton-Kingston Road.

Marcou is suing the estate of 15-year-old girl who was driving the stolen Jeep Grand Cherokee; her mother; the man who the lawsuit said had “instructed” the teenager to drive the stolen vehicle; the owner of the stolen vehicle for leaving the key fob in the unlocked vehicle; and the Hanover Insurance Group.

The lawsuit was amended last month to add Freda as a defendant. The amended lawsuit also adds the Municipality of Princeton and the Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad (PFARS) as defendants.

Freda, the Municipality of Princeton and PFARS were brought into the lawsuit by the Hanover Insurance Group, which has allegedly refused to honor automobile insurance policy claims filed by Marcou.

In its request to add Freda to the lawsuit in March, the insurance company claimed that he was involved in pursuing the stolen Jeep Grand Cherokee “and may bear some responsibility for the accident.”

The Municipality of Princeton and PFARS were added as additional defendants because Freda is the mayor of the town and also the president and a member of PFARS. The first aid and rescue squad is supported by the community and is not associated with the town.

Freda, Princeton and PFARS deny responsibility for the crash that killed Jodi Marcou in their answers to the lawsuit and also seek dismissal of the lawsuit filed against them. Freda’s attorney filed his answer Aug. 10. The town filed its answer Aug. 16 and PFARS filed its answer Aug. 7.

According to the amended lawsuit, Freda “either individually or within the course of his employment as mayor of the Municipality of Princeton, and/or as president/member of the Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad….did engage as a township or public official or emergency responder, activating the blue warning light on his vehicle and knew or reasonably should have known that by doing so, it would initiate, engage, cause and/or result in a dangerous response….and create a palpably unreasonable risk of serious or life-threatening injuries to the public and motorists legally traveling on the roadway, including (Marcou).

“Freda had no formal authority in activating his blue lights and in conducting any form of pursuit or at speed chase of the vehicle … and was not authorized to conduct such light activation or any form of a speed chase or pursuit,” the amended lawsuit said.

The chain of events that led to the fatal crash began at 12:40 p.m. Nov. 7, 2021 when police were called to a Clover Lane home to investigate an attempted motor vehicle theft. The victim told police that the would-be thieves were riding in a Jeep Grand Cherokee that was later found to have been stolen from Warren County, according to the Princeton Police Department.

While the police officer was investigating the attempted car theft on Clover Lane, he observed the Jeep Grand Cherokee being followed by a Land Rover Range Rover that had just been reported stolen from a Dodds Lane home, Princeton police said.

The police officer followed the Range Rover on Clover Lane, while the Jeep Grand Cherokee drove off in another direction. He tried to stop the Range Rover, but called off the pursuit because of safety concerns, Princeton police said.

Meanwhile, Freda had been called to a Clover Lane home by the homeowner in reference to an attempted theft of their vehicle, according to a Nov. 8, 2021 report prepared by a Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office detective. The prosecutor’s office assisted in the crash investigation.

Freda said he saw the Princeton police officer following the Range Rover and the Jeep Grand Cherokee, according to the prosecutor’s office’s report. He got into his own vehicle and drove through the neighborhood in an effort to spot the two stolen vehicles. He told the investigator that he would have called the police department to report his findings.

Freda saw both vehicles on Snowden Lane, but lost sight of the Range Rover, the report said. He followed the Jeep Grand Cherokee on Snowden Lane and watched as it drove around several cars that were stopped at the intersection of Snowden Lane and Princeton-Kingston Road.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee turned left onto Princeton-Kingston Road. Freda told the investigator that he also drove around the stopped cars at the intersection of Snowden Lane and Princeton-Kingston Road and followed the Jeep Grand Cherokee. There were several cars between his vehicle and the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Freda said he observed the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which was traveling at a high rate of speed, begin to swerve left and right on Princeton-Kingston Road. He saw the Jeep Grand Cherokee crash head-on into the Acura MDX, according to the prosecutor’s office’s report.

Freda called 911 to report the crash. He positioned his vehicle across the roadway to stop traffic from entering the crash scene. He told the prosecutor’s office detective that he also activated his emergency blue lights, which he is permitted to use as a member of the Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad.

Freda provided a supplemental statement to the prosecutor’s office Nov. 23, 2021 through his attorney, stating that he may have activated his emergency blue lights at some point while he was driving on Snowden Lane as he was following the Jeep Grand Cherokee – prior to turning onto Princeton-Kingston Road.

Freda’s actions led the Hanover Insurance Group – and Marcou – to amend the lawsuit to include Freda, the Municipality of Princeton and PFARS as defendants.

Marcou’s lawsuit seeks to have a jury trial, but no date has been set.