A former Newark cop from Bloomfield who police say struck and killed a pedestrian in 2021 — then attempted to cover up the crime — will spend half a decade behind bars, Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens II announced Aug. 2.
Louis A. Santiago, 26, of Bloomfield, was sentenced to five years in prison for drunken driving that caused him to fatally strike and kill a pedestrian who was walking on the shoulder of Garden State Parkway — and for an attempted coverup in which he drove home with the victim’s body in his car.
Santiago previously pled guilty before Superior Court Judge Ronald D. Wigler to reckless vehicular homicide, desecrating human remains, official misconduct and driving under the influence in connection to the death of Damian Dymka, 29, of Garfield.
Under the sentence imposed, Santiago must serve five years without parole. Then, once he is released, he must also serve three years of post-release parole supervision.
His father, Luis Santiago, a former lieutenant in the Newark Police Department, was sentenced to two years of probation for his role in the incident — obstructing the administration of law for making false statements to the New Jersey State Police early in the investigation.
Albert Guzman, Louis Santiago’s cousin who was in the car with him during the crash, was admitted into the Pre-Trial Intervention diversionary program, conditioned on a plea related to a conspiracy to hinder prosecution.
On Nov. 1, 2021, shortly before 3 a.m., a 2005 Honda Accord driven by Santiago, who was off duty and intoxicated at the time, was traveling northbound on the Garden State Parkway, near exit 151. Stephens says Santiago failed to maintain his lane and traveled on the right shoulder of the parkway, striking Dymka.
It is alleged that after striking the victim, neither Santiago nor Guzman called 911 or rendered aid, but instead drove off and then returned to the scene multiple times before the victim was loaded into the Honda and removed from the scene. Santiago then took the body to his family home in Bloomfield, where he, his mother and Guzman allegedly discussed what to do with the body.
Eventually, Santiago returned to the scene.
Santiago’s father, then learned of the crash from his son in person and traveled to the scene. He failed to contact 911 for approximately 40 minutes after learning of the incident. He called 911 only after arriving at the scene and seeing his son was not there.
When the NJSP arrived, just after the younger Santiago returned to the scene, Luis Santiago made misleading statements to the responding trooper. Shortly after arriving, the state police discovered Dymka’s remains in the back seat of the Honda.
Assistant Prosecutor Adam B. Wells, who handled the case from the outset, credited the NJSP’s Fatal Accident Investigation Unit and detectives of Bloomfield Station CIO for their investigation.
“I have great admiration for the family of Mr. Dymka as they have struggled with their tremendous loss,” Wells said. “I hope that the accountability this sentencing provides can help them move forward. They approached this process with wisdom and love, and the loss of their son Damian has been shared by the community at large.”
As to the defendants, Wells said: “The crash and the death of Mr. Dymka was a senseless and avoidable tragedy, but the coverup, as is so often the case, was worse and more troubling than the crime. The defendants engaged in despicable conduct reflecting an instinct toward corruption. This sentence is a significant punishment consistent with the applicable laws.”
As a condition of these convictions, neither Santiago will ever be allowed to hold any office or public employment in New Jersey.
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.