Linden man convicted for fatal drunk-driving wreck

A Union County jury has returned a guilty verdict against a Linden man who wrecked his car in a single-vehicle crash while drunk two and a half years ago, resulting in the death of his only passenger, acting Union County Prosecutor Michael A. Monahan announced Friday.

Edward M. Plaza, 46, was convicted on a charge of second-degree vehicular homicide Thursday, following an approximately two-week trial before state Superior Court Judge William A. Daniel and jury deliberations spanning two days.

At approximately 6:20 p.m. on Saturday, May 21, 2016, Plaza was driving his 1998 Lexus sedan on Pleasant Street in Linden with 41-year-old Valerie Edwards, also of Linden, in the passenger seat when he left the roadway and struck a fire hydrant, according to Union County Assistant Prosecutors Derek Nececkas and Estrella Lopez, who prosecuted the case.

Edwards was rushed to a local hospital, where she died from blunt-force injuries later the same day, Nececkas and Lopez said. Plaza suffered neck and arm injuries in the crash, spending two days in a local hospital before being released.

A Linden Police Department investigation led by Investigator Peter Hammer revealed that Plaza had a blood-alcohol level of 0.138, nearly twice the legal limit, nearly an hour and a half after the crash. An open beer bottle and other unopened bottles of beer were also recovered from the Lexus, which left behind no skid marks or other evidence that Plaza tried to apply the brakes prior to hitting the hydrant.

In addition to Hammer, another Linden police officer, a New Jersey State Police forensic scientist, and medical professionals testified at trial.

Sentencing in the case has been scheduled for Friday, December 7, 2018 before Judge Daniel, at which time Plaza is expected to face a sentence of 5 to 10 years in state prison, with at least 85 percent of the term to be served before the possibility of parole under New Jersey’s No Early Release Act.