July 19, 2000

End of the Chase

Suspect arrested in crash that killed Staten Island cop


Newsday Photo Moises Saman Police Commissioner Howard Safir announces the arrest of Guido Tritto yesterday.

An ex-con whose mother told Newsday he has a history of doing "stupid things" was charged yesterday with manslaughter after allegedly leading a Staten Island cop on a fatal high-speed chase Monday.

Guido Tritto, 43, who has a rap sheet dating to 1974, was charged in connection with a pursuit that ended with Officer John Kelly dying after losing control of his car on a curvy road in the Mariners Harbor section of Staten Island.

"John Kelly was a hero police officer," Police Commissioner Howard Safir said. "He died in the line of duty and we're very pleased that we have apprehended the subject who caused his death.”

Tritto was arrested at his 164 St. Mary's Ave. home yesterday morning after a phone tipster told detectives they should look for a motorcyclist who worked at a business not far from the crash scene, Assistant Chief Eugene Devlin said.

Tritto worked as a laborer at a Mariners Harbor plumbing supply store and didn't show up for work yesterday, Devlin said.

Police said the deadly chase that took the life of the father of two young sons started on the Staten Island Expressway when Tritto, whose motorcycle carried license plates that had been reported stolen, had been stopped by Kelly for speeding. When Kelly got out of his unmarked police car, Tritto jumped on his motorcycle and sped off, Devlin said.

Kelly gave chase, following the motorcycle off the Western Avenue exit, the last exit in Staten Island before the Goethals Bridge, and onto Goethals Road North.

The motorcycle turned left onto Western Avenue, then left again onto Gulf Avenue. The chase lasted another 500 feet before Kelly lost control of his car on a curve, then skidded, spun and crashed into a utility pole.

Police said Tritto had a long record of arrests and prison time. Most recently, he was sent to prison in 1992 on a burglary conviction. After being paroled and then taken back in several times, he was released in 1995, they said.

Tritto grew up on Bodine Street in Staten Island and was a high school dropout, according to his mother, Grace Tritto, who lives in Florida and no longer keeps in close touch with her troubled son.

After high school, his mother said, he kicked around from job to job, started hanging with the wrong crowd and had frequent brushes with the law -- 15 arrests since 1974 for things such as burglary, aggravated unlicensed driving and reckless endangerment. He had a penchant for fast and reckless driving, his mother said.

"I'm the mother and I'm shocked because for stupid things he got arrested," she said. "And he would say, ‘I'm sorry, I don't do it no more. I'm not going to drive no more.'”

She admitted her son "hangs around with bad company sometimes, I don't know. But he's a good kid.”

Police also said yesterday that Kelly may have lost control of his 1999 Chevrolet Lumina while trying to avoid a collision with a car that was inexplicably stopped on the desolate road.

A motorist who drove down Gulf Avenue about 1:25 p.m. shortly after Kelly's car crashed told police she saw a cream-colored car stopped in the far left lane of the three-lane road, according to a police source speaking on the condition of anonymity.

As the witness' vehicle got close, the car drove off, passing the mangled police car where Kelly lay mortally wounded, the source said.

Detectives were baffled as to why the car had stopped on the road, which is located in an industrial area of Mariners Harbor.

Given the witness account, crash investigators believe Kelly may have been rounding a curve on Gulf Avenue when he spotted the car parked in front of him on the road. Tire marks left on the road indicate that Kelly's car, which had the lights and sirens going, skidded sideways across the street, hit a low curb and spun through weeds and grass off the road and into a utility pole.

Upon impact, the car, which hit between the front and back driver's-side doors at about 75 mph, spun around the pole and ended up on the back side of it, police said.

The roof of the car was partially collapsed, the driver's side caved in and several windows shattered, police said.

Kelly was flung into the back seat of the car. He suffered severe head and internal injuries. Emergency medical technicians and doctors were able to revive Kelly three times when he went into cardiac arrest before he suffered his fourth and final attack about four hours after the crash in St. Vincent's Hospital.

Kelly, a decorated police veteran of 81/2 years, didn't notify the police dispatcher of the attempted stop or subsequent mile-and-a-half chase, according to a police source. Police said Kelly also wasn't wearing a seat belt. Although the department encourages its officers to do so, Sgt. Andy McInnis, a Police Department spokesman said, the use of seat belts is left to the discretion of each officer because emergency situations may call for quick action.

As the search for the motorcyclist went on yesterday, Kelly's wife, Patricia, who is also a Staten Island police officer, some of his large family, which includes two cop brothers, and plenty of cops huddled in and outside his Carlton Court home to mourn and finalize funeral arrangements.

They declined to speak to a reporter.

Officers in Kelly's 120th Precinct, where the flag was flown at half-mast yesterday, also declined to talk about their fallen colleague yesterday.

Kelly is the second officer killed in the line of duty this year; both died in fatal car accidents. In addition to manslaughter, which carries a 5- to 15-year jail term, Tritto was charged with reckless endangerment, leaving the scene of an accident, criminal possession of stolen property and driving with a suspended license. He was awaiting arraignment last night.

Funeral arrangements have been finalized for Kelly. The viewing will be today and tomorrow from 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 and 10 p.m. at the Vincent Scalia Funeral Home at 28 Eltingville Blvd. The Funeral Mass will be Friday at 11 a.m. at Our Lady Star of the Sea at the corner of Huguenot Avenue and Amboy Road. Interment will be at the Moravian Cemetery.

Staff writer Jennifer Morrill contributed to this story.