JERSEY CITY - A Jersey City councilman allegedly involved in a drunken driving accident over the weekend has a history of driving public vehicles with unauthorized red and blue emergency lights flashing, according to emails obtained by News 12 New Jersey. And when Jersey City officials took the councilman’s city vehicle away last year amid concerns about his driving habits, a city spokesperson says Councilman Khemrak “Chico” Ramchal simply circumvented city policy by obtaining a new SUV from an independent authority the city could not regulate.
Ramchal’s vehicle slammed into a taxi Friday night at the intersection of Communipaw and West Side avenues in Jersey City. Police say a Breathalyzer indicated Ramchal had a blood alcohol level that was twice the legal limit. Witnesses tell police the SUV was also sporting red and blue emergency lights, which were turned on at the time of the crash. The vehicle was registered to the Jersey City Incinerator Authority, of which Ramchal is a board member. The authority would not comment on whether it was aware the vehicle had been equipped with emergency lights, who had installed them, or why.
But emails obtained by Kane In Your Corner show that just over a year ago, Jersey City officials took away a city SUV from Ramchal amid concerns he was misusing the emergency lights on that vehicle. In an email, the city’s then Public Works director ordered Ramchal and Councilman Daniel Rivera to “please return your vehicle to public works (because) the vehicle has unauthorized lights and siren.” The emails indicated the vehicles would be replaced with similar vehicles without sirens to be used during on-duty hours only.
Rivera replied to say that he would comply at once. But in an apparent reference to Ramchal, adds “I want to be very very clear I completely respected the fact that I am not a public safety personnel and would never cross that line,” adding “I respect my city way too much to make…you all look bad by being a loose cannon like my other council colleague.” Rivera did not return calls seeking comment.
Mayor Steve Fulop also had no comment on the emails, but his spokesperson, Jennifer Morrill, says the vehicle Ramchal drove in the crash “was issued by an autonomous agency circumventing the city policy without approval. This is another reason why the mayor will look to get the council this year to support eliminating the JCIA.”
Ramchal, meantime, took to social media to apologize for his drunken driving arrest and to say that he will take part in a counseling program. Ramchal did not return calls, however, asking about his apparent history of driving with emergency lights on, as if he were a police officer or other first responder.