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Heart attack behind wheel leads to 3 tickets in N.J.

8:46 AM, Jun 13, 2013   |    comments
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Spring Lake Heights, NJ (Asbury Park Press) -- Though Dan Langley had a heart attack while driving, that did not stop a police officer from giving him three traffic tickets.

A little more than a week after the April 1 heart attack -- which led to a minor traffic accident -- Langley, a 20-year-old Wall, New Jersey resident, received the tickets in the mail. When he went to the Spring Lake Heights Municipal Court to fight them, he and his family figured a doctor's note would help convince the local prosecutor or judge to dismiss the summonses.

"Please forgive Mr. Langley's tickets due to his unfortunate experience of having a heart attack seconds prior to his car accident," stated the note from Dr. Harold Cotler of Wall.

The result? Two tickets were dismissed, but a third was only downgraded... to a $133 fine.

"What's the charge? Criminal cardiac arrest?" his father, Chris Langley said in a later interview.

Langley pleaded guilty May 16 to the lesser violation of obstructing the passage of vehicles and paid the fine, but he and his parents say they do not understand why the tickets were written and why they were not all tossed out in court.

"We feel the system is just completely insensitive to something of this nature," Chris Langley said. "How can you charge anyone with anything? Something's wrong here, and it needs to be fixed. ... This could have been any family. This could have been anyone's son."

Neither the municipal prosecutor, Colin Quinn, nor police could be reached for comment.

'It saved his life'

Cotler said physicians believe Dan Langley's heart attack began before the accident.

Langley was headed to a friend's home in Spring Lake Heights on April 1. Around 5:45 p.m., near the intersection of Route 71 and Warren Avenue, his car hit a Toyota at a traffic light, his family said.

Langley does not remember the accident, but he and his parents have been told that he got out of his car, walked toward the front of the vehicle, vomited and collapsed.

Chris Langley said he and his wife, Noreen, believe the accident -- and a fast-acting police sergeant -- helped save their son's life.

The accident quickly brought emergency services to the scene. Sgt. Andrew O'Neillbegan CPR.

"We feel fortunate because the accident attracted immediate attention. We feel it saved his life," said Dan's father. "We're grateful to Sgt. O'Neill of Spring Lake Heights, because of his efforts. He started CPR. He's humble; he says it was a group effort. ... I can't say enough about the sergeant. He was at the scene. He went to hospital in ambulance with him."

Emergency room doctors at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune quickly cooled Dan Langley's body to stave off brain damage from the heart attack, a procedure Langley's doctor said helped save his life.

Langley's doctor agrees that the quick actions of the police sergeant, the emergency workers who quickly transported him to Jersey Shore University Medical Center and doctors at the Neptune hospital who cooled his body helped save his life and saved his brain function.

"He was very lucky that he was seen by a fast-thinking police officer and went to a really great hospital," said Cotler, who is also the vice chairman of the department of family practice at Jersey Shore.

Tickets in the mail

O'Neill did not write the tickets. They were issued later by another officer, Raymond Kwiatkowski, the family said.

The tickets arrived in the mail eight days later, on the same day a defibrillator was implanted in the young man's chest, the family said.

Chris Langley said he spoke with police after the tickets arrived in the mail, and they indicated they would talk to the municipal prosecutor about dismissing them.

In Municipal Court, Dan Langley initially pleaded not guilty, and two of the tickets - tailgating and unsafe operation of a motor vehicle - were dismissed.

But authorities would only agree to downgrade the third - from reckless driving to obstructing the passage of other vehicles, the Langleys said.

Unlike the reckless driving ticket, which carries five points and a fine of up to $200, the downgraded offense came with no points and a $133 fine.

No one was injured from the accident, and the other driver did not come to the court hearing, the family said.

Dan "had to plead guilty," said his mother, Noreen. "What choice did he have?"

He paid the $133 fine.

Not back to normal

Dan Langley is the youngest of six children. There is no history of similar heart problems in the family, and doctors still are not sure what caused his cardiac arrest, his parents said. He spent 10 days in the hospital.

At the time, Dan Langley, who plays several musical instruments, was working two jobs and finishing his last semester as a mechanical engineering student at Brookdale Community College in the Lincroft section of Middletown. He was set to start attending Rutgers University in the fall.

But because of his medical condition he had to withdraw from school and cannot return to work. He cannot play contact sports. He cannot swim in the pool that has been in the family's backyard since he was a baby. He cannot mow the lawn or use the edger.

"The doctor said he will be back to a normal life in a more reasonable time, but not now," Chris Langley said.

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