‘They never slowed down’ — Recchione, Vespucci killed in crash

Valerie Vespucci, 22, and Peter-John “PJ” Recchione, 23, were killed were their SUV struck a tree in Nutley.

The scene, according to one witness, was downright eerie: an out-of-control SUV silently speeding through an intersection in the early morning hours of Oct. 2, 2004, stopping only when it slammed head first into a tree on the lawn of a brightly lit apartment complex in Nutley. “They never slowed down,” said Chief John Holland of the Nutley Police Department. “They went straight into the tree.”

Instantly killed were the driver, 23-year-old Peter-John Recchione of Lyndhurst and his front-seat passenger, 22-year-old Valerie Vespucci of North Arlington.

A third victim, Barry Pusaver, 22, of Kearny, went to the hospital in critical condition.

Peter-John “PJ” Recchione

Valerie Vespucci

When the maroon, 1994 Chevy Blazer struck the tree, its steering column snapped in two. The impact drove the engine block into the front seat of the vehicle. Investigators later determined the Blazer was traveling 55 miles per hour — about 20 mph over the posted speed limit. Veteran police officers said the crash was one of the worst in recent memory.

The SUV struck this tree. More than seven years later, the base of the tree still shows evidence of the crash.

The accident occurred about 3:20 a.m. at the intersection of Park and Passaic in Nutley. “There’s nothing worse than this one,” said town Commissioner Carmen Orrechio, Nutley’s director of public safety.

Police said if the Blazer had not struck the tree, it may very well have crashed into the apartments beyond it. “Other lives may have been lost,” said Chief Holland.

In order to strike the tree, Recchione blew through a flashing yellow light in the intersection, drove over a curb and careened across the lawn of the apartment complex. Stanchions were later installed to prevent a similar accident from happening.

The circumstances around the accident were under investigation in Essex County for quite some time. Seven months earlier, another driver died after a crash at the same intersection.

Edrommel Noriega, 27, went through the light and crashed into a fence about 2:45 a.m. on March 7. Police said Noriega drove his 2000 Chevy Cavalier off Passaic Avenue and struck a railroad-tie wall on Park Avenue.

The Vespucci-Recchione accident was the 12th crash at that intersection in 2004.

Witnesses said Vespucci, a single mother of two, was drinking at the Shamrock Inn on Main Avenue in Clifton on the eve of the accident. It was in the bar that she apparently met up with Recchione and Pusaver and, in the early morning hours, as the bar was closing, decided to leave with them.

Kristopher Rivers, who is the father of Vespucci’s children, spoke with Vespucci around midnight. Everything seemed, OK, he said at the time time.

Rivers, Recchione and Pusaver had bowled two nights before the crash at North Arlington Bowl, which ironically is across the street where Recchione and Vespucci would be buried. Recchione was a member of the West Hudson Hospital bowling league. He played at the bowling alley every Wednesday. He was also an ambulance driver for Clara Maas Hospital in Belleville.

Two of the victims bowled here before the crash. The bowling alley is located across the street from the cemetery where Recchione and Vespucci would be buried.


“RIP Valerie” is scrawled on a car parked near Queen of Peach Church in North Arlington, where Vespucci’s funeral was held.

Vespucci was remembered as a loving and caring person by her co-workers at the Shop-Rite liquor store in Lyndhurst.

Vespucci worked at Patsy’s Liquors in the ShopRite shopping center in Lyndhurst.

Recchione and Vespucci were buried a stone’s throw from each other at Holy Cross Cemetery in North Arlington. Hundreds attended the separate funerals and burials.

Each victim was remembered with kindness by friends and former classmates. Recchione’s mother, however, requested that no eulogies be given for her son.