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Jun 24, 2009 12:54 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Off-duty Quogue police officer, passenger killed in car crash

Jun 24, 2009 12:54 PM

An eight-year veteran of the Quogue Village Police Department and a passenger in the sports car he was driving while off duty on Father’s Day were killed when the speeding vehicle left a road in Speonk, crashed into a tree and caught fire, according to Southampton Town Police.

Town Police said 40-year-old Richard Kappel of Speonk was traveling north on Speonk-Riverhead Road at 3:23 p.m., at a high rate of speed, when he lost control of a 2002 Ferrari. Police said Mr. Kappel and his passenger, 33-year-old Christian Gomez of New Hyde Park, who was a cousin of Mr. Kappel’s wife, Tara, were both ejected from the vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene. A section of the car also caught fire, according to authorities.

The bodies of both men were transported to the Suffolk County medical examiner’s office in Hauppauge. Police said neither man was wearing a seat belt.

On Tuesday, Southampton Town Police Detective Sergeant Randy Hintze said he could not say why the medical examiner’s office had requested an autopsy of the two men. “It was pretty evident that there was blunt trauma on impact,” he said, adding that authorities do not think drugs or alcohol was involved.

Town Police said the preliminary investigation revealed that Mr. Kappel had been traveling at an “excessive speed” at the time of the single-car crash. They said the accident occurred on Speonk-Riverhead Road, between Sunrise Highway and Suffolk County Community College’s eastern campus. The posted speed limit on Speonk-Riverhead Road, which is a single-lane road in both directions, is 50 mph.

Det. Sgt. Hintze said investigators do not know how fast Mr. Kappel was traveling at the time of the accident, though several witnesses said they observed the sports car, which was registered to a third party, speeding moments before the fatal accident. He explained that investigators can determine the exact speed that a vehicle was traveling only by conducting an accident reconstruction, and that such a request has to come from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office. As of Wednesday, such a request had not been filed.

It is still not clear how Mr. Kappel, whom Quogue Village Police Lieutenant Chris Isola described as a sports car enthusiast, obtained the keys to the luxury vehicle. Det. Sgt. Hintze declined to identify the owner of the Ferrari, citing police department policy.

“We’ve never provided third-party vehicle information,” Det. Sgt. Hintze said, adding that Mr. Kappel was not driving the car illegally.

He explained that the testimony of witnesses, and the physical evidence that was collected at the accident scene, allowed police to determine that Mr. Kappel was speeding moments before the crash. Det. Sgt. Hintze said the sports car, which was impounded by police for a routine safety check, was totalled in the accident.

Speonk-Riverhead Road in Speonk was closed between County Road 51 and Sunrise Highway for four and a half hours following the Sunday afternoon accident, according to police. Town Police were assisted at the scene by New York State Police, the Eastport Fire Department and the Flanders-Northampton Ambulance Company.

Eastport Fire Department Chief Tom Jacobsen, who was one of the first people to arrive at the scene, declined to comment on the crash.

“This is a very traumatic event,” Chief Jacobsen said when reached on Monday. “At this time I am not going to make any comment out of respect for the family.”

A full-time member of the Quogue Police Department since June 2001, Mr. Kappel received several departmental awards, including two for exceptional police service. He received one award in 2004 for helping apprehend two suspects who had robbed a commercial business in Westhampton Beach, and the second in 2007 for recovering property that had been stolen from a burglarized home.

“He was an unofficial leader,” Lt. Isola said. “The guys would go to him for help.”

Mr. Kappel was also a member of the Air National Guard from 1986 until 2002, where he held the title of technical sergeant.

Lt. Isola described Mr. Kappel as a community service-minded individual who often instructed local children and teenagers on how to safely operate ATVs.

“Rich lived his life with a smile,” Lt. Isola said. “We will honor his memory as a brother, officer and we will admire his dedication as a husband and a father.”

Mr. Kappel is survived by his wife, Tara, and two young daughters, according to Lt. Isola.

A wake will be held at Follett and Werner Funeral Home on Mill Road in Westhampton Beach on Thursday, June 25, from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The funeral service will be held on Friday, June 26, at 11 a.m., at the funeral home. Interment will follow at Calverton National Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Mr. Kappel’s two young children. Those interested in donating are asked to call the TD Bank in Westhampton Beach at 288-3914.

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