By Ron Leir
The mercury had dropped to near-freezing last Friday night, Nov. 14, as Christopher Russell was walking through Hudson County’s West Hudson Park in the Harrison portion of the park.
According to police, he was inebriated and he was cold, but, most of all, he wanted to get to his home in Newark’s Ironbound section.
So, police said, the 30-yearold Russell made his way through some temporary orange plastic mesh fencing surrounding a construction site in West Hudson Park off Davis Ave. and climbed into the cab of an idle excavator.
Finding no key in the ignition but making use of prior experience as a mechanic, Russell grabbed one of his own keys, jammed it into the ignition and managed to get the motor started, said Harrison Police Capt. Michael Green.
As the heavy-duty vehicle lurched forward, trampling the fencing, county spokesman Jim Kennelly said, “The driver of the vehicle circulated through the park to the east of the Davis Ave. bridge project and caused damage to various park furniture, including a drinking fountain, a protective bollard and three concrete and wood slat park benches.
“A small tree was uprooted during this time, and a park picnic bench was dragged for a short distance but appeared to be undamaged. Tracks left by the vehicle were evident but not damaging to the overall landscape. No park sidewalks or paved areas outside of the construction limits were observed to have been damaged.
“Damage caused within the construction area included temporary fencing, a second piece of construction equipment, the roadway subgrade, part of the parapet wall and other small materials stored on the site.”
Kennelly couldn’t say how much the wreckage would cost to fix.
Police said Russell also drove the vehicle over several temporary fences and a ball field next to the bridge construction site.
Meanwhile, the next phase of Russell’s abbreviated trip found the driver maneuvering outside the park – where witnesses spotted him on Cross St. and on Hamilton St., just west of Davis, where police ultimately stopped him, shortly after 9 p.m., according to Green.
As an officer approached, police said Russell blurted out, “It was me; yup, it was me.” As he spoke, police said, the officer detected a strong odor of alcohol coming from the cab and, inside, he observed an open container of Southern Comfort whiskey.
Police said Russell told the officer he only stopped because he thought he hit a parked car, which, according to police, he did. It was a Jeep Grand Cherokee, parked on Davis Ave., whose owner was notified.
Police impounded the excavator temporarily before releasing it to its owner, listed as A-Tech Concrete Co. of Edison. Police said the vehicle was valued at $25,000.
Russell was charged with DWI, DWI within 1,000 feet of a school, theft of movable property, criminal mischief and leaving the scene of an accident involving property.
He was transported to the Hudson County Jail on $20,000 bail, with a 10% cash option, set by Municipal court Judge Kenneth Lindenfelser, pending court action.