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thedrifter
09-24-07, 07:32 AM
Posted on Sat, Sep. 22, 2007
Hero Marine charged in crash deaths of 2 buddies

By Sam Wood

Inquirer Staff Writer
A Marine Corps recruiter, once hailed as a hero for saving 16 children from a burning school bus, was charged yesterday with two counts of vehicular homicide in a February car crash that killed two fellow Marines and critically injured two others.

Authorities allege that Staff Sgt. Nicholas Gendron, 27, was speeding in a government-issued Dodge Stratus on Feb. 23 when he lost control and the car struck a tree in Randolph, N.J.

Sgt. William Pascal, 27, a Marine from Clayton, Gloucester County, died of internal injuries five hours after the crash. Staff Sgt. Eric Maul, 31, of Picatinny, N.J., also was killed.

Gendron, wearing his dress uniform, was taken into custody in Superior Court in Morristown yesterday as his family and a group of fellow Marines looked on. He pleaded not guilty and was released.

He has been on desk duty since the accident, not working as a recruiter.

Robyn D'Onofrio, spokeswoman for the Morris County Prosecutor's Office, said Gendron also was charged with two counts of assault by auto. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment if convicted, D'Onofrio said.

The five Marines were on their way to a football game, where they intended to try to recruit students. Earlier that evening, Gendron had been honored at an award ceremony, where he was credited with rescuing 16 members of the Hopatcong girls' soccer team in September 2006 after their school bus was hit by a dump truck that had run a red light.

Moments before the crash that killed his fellow Marines, Gendron's speed had exceeded 60 m.p.h., D'Onofrio said. The limit on the dimly lit and winding stretch of road is 35 m.p.h., she said.

"It was a very, very preventable accident," said Susan Pascal, now of Laurel Springs, who was two months pregnant on the night her husband was killed.

"I think his actions need to have consequences," Pascal said. "Because of the way he was driving, he robbed both of my boys of their daddy." The couple's second child was born July 11. The oldest is 3.

She said she was angry that Gendron "is still able to call himself a Marine."

Sgt. Glendale Stamaria of Jersey City and Sgt. Thomas Sweeney of Lakeville, Pa., were hurt in the wreck.

An investigation turned up no evidence that Gendron had been using alcohol or drugs, D'Onofrio said.

Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi called the case a tragedy all around.

"It's one of those cases where everyone feels they've been wronged," he said.

Gendron's defense lawyer, John Iaciofano, said he was "shocked and amazed" that criminal charges were filed.

He said Gendron had no memory of the accident, which also sent him to the hospital, and said the prosecution's case was based on an expert's accident reconstruction that concluded that the car was speeding.

Other factors may have played a role in the accident, said the lawyer, adding that a witness reported black ice on the road.

"It is important to remember that everyone who was involved in the accident were his good and close friends. I think he will always suffer the loss," said Iaciofano. Gendron has a 2-year-old daughter and his wife is pregnant with their second child, the lawyer said.

Contact staff writer Sam Wood at 856-779-3838 or samwood@phillynews.com.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Ellie