(CN) – A New Jersey police officer may be entitled to accidental disability benefits after he watched three teenagers die in a car explosion and saw their “melted” skin after the flames were put out, the state’s highest court ruled Tuesday.
Christopher Mount joined the Freehold Township Police Department in 1996.
As he approached the scene of a high-speed accident in early 2007, he saw black smoke coming from the damaged vehicle and a hand hanging outside the window, according to court records.
Bystanders screamed for Mount to “do something.”
He was less than 2 feet away from the car when it exploded.
Mount testified that it felt like his “eyelashes were going to burn off.”
He called EMTs and the fire department. After the flames were subdued, he witnessed the aftermath, including three teenagers’ dead bodies.
Mount recalled that their “skin was melted, the clothing was melted onto the skin.”
“The smell of…burnt flesh got into my nose; it got into my throat,” he stated. “Every swallow that I took had that smell and that taste from the burning flesh.”
Mount left the police force in 2010 after he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The board of trustees of the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System, or PFRS, denied Mount’s application for accidental disability benefits, and the New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed the decision, ruling that he had been trained to handle such a “horrific event.”
However, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in Mount’s favor Tuesday in an opinion written by Justice Anne Patterson.
She explained that under the court’s 2007 decision in Richardson v. Board of Trustees, PFRS, a police officer or firefighter must prove that the traumatic event was “undesigned and unexpected.”
According to the ruling, Mount “was not trained to combat, unassisted, an explosion of such magnitude experienced at such a close range. With no firefighting equipment or protective gear, he was helpless in the face of a terrible tragedy.”
The state’s high court remanded the case to the appellate division to determine whether Mount’s disability “directly resulted” from the accident.