Easthampton, MA – A suspected drunk driver walked out of jail on his own recognizance, after he caused a violent head-on crash that left two Easthampton police officers and a department K9 with injuries.
Nicholas Bilger, 24, had a blood alcohol content of 0.18 at the time of his arrest, according to an Easthampton police report.
He paid a bail clerk just $40 – not as bond, but as payment for the clerk’s time – before he was released from jail, Easthampton Police Chief Robert Alberti told Blue Lives Matter on Monday.
The horrific collision occurred at approximately 10:40 p.m. on Oct. 24, as Officer Andrew Beulieu and his trainee, Officer Kevin Moskal, were traveling along Old Springfield road with K9 Gino, according to the arrest report.
Earlier that night, a drunk driver was leaving a party and caused a separate collision, and officers were notified that some of the individuals involved in the crash had returned to the party.
“I heard what sounded like an engine revving in front of me and could see the reflection of headlights approaching,” Officer Beaulieu’s report read.
As the oncoming vehicle sped towards him, the driver, later identified as Bilger, lost control on a curve and began sliding sideways.
Officer Beaulieu activated his emergency lights and brought his cruiser to a complete stop.
“As it got closer, I could hear the engine still revving and the vehicle was coming across the road onto the opposite side where I was positioned,” the officer’s report read.
“Being a narrow road, there was nowhere for me to go to avoid the accident, so the vehicle slammed violently into the front of my cruiser, subsequently bouncing off and coming to rest in the woods,” he wrote.
Chief Alberti told Blue Lives Matter that accident reconstructionists estimated Bilger was traveling at 55 miles per hour when he slammed into the front of the patrol vehicle.
Although Bilger’s car was “launched” into the woods after the impact, the suspect jumped out of his vehicle and ran towards the front of Officer Beaulieu’s patrol cruiser, according to the officer’s report.
"Sorry for hitting your car but I have to go to work," Bilger said, according to police. "I had to get out of there, there was a big fight and they wanted to beat me up.”
Officer Beaulieu ordered Bilger to show his hands, and told him he wasn’t going anywhere.
He also noticed that the suspect was bleeding from his neck and back, and that he had a “strong odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from his breath,” the report read.
While Officer Beaulieu radioed for an ambulance, Bilger began “acting irrational and [was] yelling and flailing,” so Officer Moskal placed him into handcuffs.
Additional officers soon arrived at the scene.
Bilger was evaluated by emergency medical personnel, but refused treatment.
“All of the airbags deployed” during the collision, Chief Alberti explained to Blue Lives Matter.
Both officers sustained “whiplash and back injuries,” and K9 Gino was slammed into the side of the cruiser when the side curtain airbag deployed, he said.
“There was full airbag deployment and extensive major damage to the cruiser,” the chief explained in a Facebook post. “Gino had to be extricated from the damage cruiser. When the airbags deployed from the massive impact, the side curtain airbag pushed into the K9 compartment causing Gino to be slammed into the other side of compartment.”
According to the chief, the officers and K9 Gino were “visibly shaken” and suffered “minor injuries” during the potentially fatal incident.
“We are very fortunate,” he told Blue Lives Matter.
Bilger was charged with second offense operating under the influence, speeding, unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, operation of an unregistered and uninsured motor vehicle, reckless driving, attaching wrong license plates, and “several motor vehicle infractions,” Chief Alberti’s Facebook post read.
Although Bilger’s blood-alcohol content was “more than twice the legal limit,” he was released on his own recognizance after paying the bail clerk just $40, the chief said.
“Bail is not supposed to be punitive, and we understand that,” he told Blue Lives Matter. “But there are times that it seems something more should be required to make sure they show up for court.”
He described the current local bail system as having “no rhyme or reason,” and said there is “no consistency” with regards to how bails are set by the clerks.
“We’ve become somewhat numb to the judiciary, not just in Massachusetts, but across the country,” the chief said.
Although the officers have not yet returned to duty, both are expected to recover from their injuries.
On Oct. 25, the department announced that K9 Gino had also undergone a "thorough workup," according to their Facebook post.
"We are very pleased to report that Dr. [Kirstin] Losert gave Gino a clean bill of health," the agency said. "Gino likely has some bruising, but no other serious issues."
In a Facebook post on Friday, Officer Beaulieu described the crash as “an eye-opening experience,” and urged his fellow officers to use it as a reminder to “never let your guard down.”
“We are resting and recovering to return to the street next week,” Officer Beaulieu wrote. “Most importantly, my boy and trainee are ok too. The whole situation is frustrating but we will adapt and overcome. Be safe all.”