The leader of New Jersey's police force lamented Tuesday that a veteran trooper's distinguished career will likely be defined by the probe into allegations that he escorted _ without official authorization _ a group of luxury sports cars at 100 mph down a state highway last month.
The allegations against Sgt. First Class Nadir Nassry are "very disturbing," said State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes.
"We have a 25-year trooper here who has numerous commendations, who's spent his entire time in uniform, who 12 years ago saved an occupant from a burning vehicle," Fuentes said Tuesday. "And the signature of his career is going to be this. So it's very disturbing, but it doesn't distract us from doing what we have to do when a mistake has been made."
State Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa suspended Nassry and Trooper Joseph Ventrella, a six-year veteran, without pay Monday after news reports recounted witnesses who said they saw the caravan of a few dozen high-performance luxury cars speeding down the Garden State Parkway on March 30, escorted by two state police cars.
Chiesa and Fuentes appeared before a Department of Law and Public Safety budget hearing Tuesday, but discussed the caravan only briefly.
"If people are going to put the public safety at risk like these individuals did, we're going to take action; we're going to take swift action," Chiesa said.
Sen. Paul Sarlo, the chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, called the incident a "blip." He asked lawmakers to focus their questions on the proposed budget for the coming fiscal year, and said he has confidence in Chiesa and Fuentes to handle the situation.
"In a department of that size, unfortunately sometimes people make silly and stupid mistakes and individuals make silly and stupid mistakes," Sarlo said.
Steve Jones, a spokesman for the state police, said before the hearing that such escorts are approved at the local command level, by a station or regional commander. Those must be performed within the law and are meant to enhance public safety, he said.
Fuentes said after the hearing that state police do "hundreds" of escorts on the state's highways each year, usually helping out the Secret Service or the NYPD, for instance. He said he hadn't heard of the type of escort currently under investigation.
Charles Sciarra, Nassry's attorney, said that Fuentes' comment about the number of escorts performed by state police only validated what Sciarra had pointed out Monday, that they are a common occurrence.
"We are left with speeding violations," Sciarra said. "A career as exceptional as this does not end on these issues."
The attorney general's office is investigating a second alleged high-speed police escort from 2010.
Tom Feeney, a spokesman for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, said the authority wasn't notified about the luxury-car escort and said it normally is only notified of state police escorts if they require traffic patterns to be altered. Feeney added that no employees at Parkway toll plazas reported seeing cars driving at high speeds on the day in question.
Associated Press writer David Porter in Newark contributed to this report.