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The family of Richard E. Christopher, from left, father Richard Christopher, step-mother Joan Christopher and sister Melissa Castillo, mourn his death in a wrong-way crash. / Hoa Nguyen, The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News

RAMAPO, N.Y - Two men, including an off-duty New York City police officer, were killed Tuesday morning when the officer went the wrong way on the state Thruway and slammed head-on into an SUV, state police said.

Richard E. Christopher, 32, an NYPD officer from Suffern, drove his 2002 Dodge Dakota pickup southbound in the northbound lanes and collided with a 2003 Honda CRV driven by James B. DeVito, 59, from Airmont.

The crash occurred around 7 a.m. in Suffern. There were no passengers in either vehicle. Both drivers were pronounced dead at the scene.

"Both of them had airbags and seatbelts, but the impact was so great that none of that helped," said Ray Florida, head of Rockland Paramedic Services.

Tuesday's crash was the third wrong-way driver incident in the area in the past month and comes five years after one of the most horrific car crashes in recent memory. On July 26, 2009, Diane Schuler drove a minivan with children in the wrong direction on the Taconic State Parkway in Mount Pleasant. She slammed head-on into another vehicle, killing eight people, including four young children.

An estimated 360 people each year are killed in wrong-way collisions on the nation's highways, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Wrong-way crashes on highways are relatively rare, but are often fatal because they usually involve head-on collisions.

Christopher, who was headed to work Tuesday morning, according to his family, was an eight-year NYPD veteran assigned to the 43rd precinct in the Bronx. He was an Army veteran who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia.

"Nobody can replace him because he was something special," Christopher's stepmother, Joan Christopher, said at the family home in Nyack.

DeVito, a recent widower, was a chef at Mount St. Mary College in Newburgh, N.Y., and was known to his neighbors as a quiet and friendly man.

"I saw him yesterday," said Alyssa Dubbs, 20, who lived across the street from DeVito. "He was outside taking care of his lawn, working on his pool, the flowers in his front yard. Everything."

"He was a great guy," Dubbs said. "Nice as could be."

Neighbors said DeVito's wife, Wilma, died in February after a battle with cancer.

Police said they were continuing to investigate where Christopher was traveling to and where he got on the Thruway in the wrong direction.

"We believe that area of the Thruway is clearly marked," Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas Madison said at a news conference.

Contributing: Jane Lerner, Thane Grauel and Alex Taylor of The Journal News



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: 2 killed in wrong-way crash on N.Y. Thruway

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