Abraham Steinfeld admits he wasn’t watching the speedometer of his Toyota minivan too closely as he drove along Route 547 in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the night of Nov. 14.
Instead, he was watching the road — and his wife, who was about to deliver the couple’s child.
Steinfeld told The Lakewood Scoop that the couple had seen the doctor that day and had been told to get to the hospital in a hurry once labor began, because “the baby will be born very quickly.”
When his wife went into labor, Steinfeld loaded them into the Toyota and headed for Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch. He was driving calmly, he told The Scoop, until his wife said she could feel the birth was getting closer.
“I became quite frantic, so I automatically picked up speed, without realizing I was going way over the speed limit,” he said.
Howell Police Officer Anthony Marotto saw the speeding minivan and set off after it. Steinfeld pulled over immediately, and as the officer approached the car, said, “My wife’s in advanced labor.”
Officer Marotto went through a routine traffic stop, getting the driver’s license and registration, then asking him to “sit tight for a few minutes. You know you were doing almost 80 miles an hour, right?”
Steinfeld said he pleaded with him to please make it fast as we are in an emergency, but he answered curtly, “Sit tight.”
Officer Marotto returned to his patrol car to run the license and registration. This process took almost ten minutes.
Halfway through this process, Steinfeld began gesticulating at the officer, motioning him to come back. “While stranded, my wife reached a critical point,” Steinfeld explained.
“I immediately started calling out, ‘officer, officer,’ and motioned with my hands, but he completely ignored me.”
As Officer Marotto began to head back to the stopped minivan, Steinfeld leaned out the door and called, “My wife’s water just broke.”
Officer Marotto immediately asked, “Do you want me to have an ambulance come out here?”
Steinfeld’s wife asked Officer Marotto to provide a police escort.
“No, we don’t do that. That’s what ambulances are for. That’s why you’re not supposed to be driving that fast,” Marotto replied.
He offered again to summon an ambulance, and the couple declined.
He offered again. “They can at least follow you or take you up there… your husband can follow you up in the car if you want to do that.”
The couple refused. So, Officer Marotto handed the driver his speeding ticket, and sent them on their way — but before he did, officer Marotto told the couple, “Listen — slow down because if you have an accident, you won’t get to the hospital — especially tonight there‘s a lot of deer out tonight, okay?”
Steinfeld called the doctor to update him, so a team of nurses was waiting when the Steinfelds arrived. The baby arrived very shortly after.
When the Lakewood Scoop broke the story, most of the comments were against the officer.
Sam Smith posted, “I would love to hear the officers take which justified his action.”
Dogo added, “Shame on that Howell police officer and shame on his commander if he does not reveiw and publicaly reprimand his actions!”
Some readers had a different take on the incident.
Phil Stilton noted that “80MPH on that road is VERY dangerous, he could have let you continue on, but even an ambulance or police car wouldn’t go that fast on that road so the ticket is rightfully deserved. You could have killed somebody, yourself, the baby, your wife, etc. Especially with all the bad paving jobs they just did on that road.”
Another Scoop commenter, Abe, expressed, “Everyone is getting bent out of shape based on the account of this supposed ‘victim.’ If the facts are indeed as he claims why doesn’t he present a full case, including body cam and dash cam footage.
“My guess is that when he told the officer his predicament the officer offered to call an ambulance. In order to ward that off he told the officer that the situation was not that bad. Based on that the officer issued the ticket.
“You can’t have it both ways; it is either a medical emergency or it is not.
“Although the situation sounds unpleasant, the fact is that the police have to follow procedure. They cannot have everyone they pull over claim a medical emergency.
“Although his wife was in the car, the officer was not in a position to administer a pregnancy test or diagnose the direness of her situation.
“He offered an ambulance. Once that is refused he must deal with the situation he sees before him. Otherwise where do we draw the line.”
The Howell Police Department issued a statement saying, “Both the operator of the vehicle, his pregnant wife and the officer were calm, respectful and courteous to one another.”
“We commend them [the Steinfelds] for their respectful demeanor under the circumstances.
“However, the officer acted appropriately, and any suggestion that the officer’s conduct was improper, unprofessional or inhumane simply contradicts the video evidence.
“We are happy to hear the occupants arrived safely at the hospital and had a successful delivery. We wish them the best.”
Jim Bueermann, president of the national Police Foundation – a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit research organization – said, “Police work is full of instances where police officers do things that are technically correct, they’re legally, by policy, correct, but they may not be as compassionate as they could have been or should have been.”
Bueermann, who was also chief of police in Redlands, California from 1998 to 2011, said he could not speak to the Howell traffic stop specifically, but rather explained how officers can use their best judgment in the field.
“There’s two kinds of discussions that departments have with their officers when they have done something. One is that, you know, ‘follow policy and you did the right thing,'” said Bueermann.
“Another discussion might be, ‘You followed policy, technically you did the right thing, but let’s talk about other options you had available to you that might have had better outcomes.'”
Bueermann said one option might have been to send the driver and his wife on their way with a warning to be careful, or to issue a written summons at a later date.
Bueermann emphasized that providing an escort was against department policy.
“You open up a whole liability issue,” he explained. “The officer would have formed a special relationship with (the driver) that would have legal implications if they crash.”
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