Town council member resigns amid vehicular homicide charges (UPDATE)

Robert McGowan.
Robert McGowan.

Recently-elected Town Council member Robert McGowan resigned from his post Monday, Nov. 23, after reports that he had been indicted on vehicular homicide charges in New Jersey a week earlier.

The District 2 councilman was processed Nov. 16 and is scheduled to appear in Union County Superior Court in Elizabeth, N.J. Monday, Dec. 14, where he will face charges of second-degree vehicular homicide and two counts of fourth-degree assault, according to Mark Spivey of the Union County Prosecutor’s Office.

Spivey, the office’s director of communications, said that the charges stem from a car crash that happened Oct. 1, 2011 in Westfield, N.J. He added that bail was set at $50,000.

The complaint filed against McGowan gave no detail of the crash and Westfield police did respond to inquires as of press time Wednesday, but initial reports indicate that he was speeding and went through a stop sign before his car collided with a second vehicle and took the life of a 69-year-old man from Old Bridge Township, N.J.

Two other people were reportedly injured in the crash, one of whom was McGowan’s passenger.

First Selectman Tim Herbst asked for McGowan’s resignation immediately after he became aware of Mr. McGowan’s indictment in New Jersey

“This incident occurred four years ago in another state,” Herbst said in a statement to The Times last week. “Additionally, the indictment came after this year’s local election. No one involved in the candidate recruitment process was aware of this incident.

“As this case progresses through the judicial system, additional facts will emerge,” he said. “In the United States of America, a person is innocent until proven guilty. We must allow the judicial process to run its course. As the holiday season approaches, my thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this tragedy and also with Mr. McGowan’s family.”

Resignation letter

In a letter sent to the Office of the First Selectman at 3:19 p.m. Monday, Nov. 23 McGowan officially resigned.

“With regret, I hereby tender my resignation as a member of the Trumbull Town Council for the term beginning Dec. 7,” said McGowan, 29.

He was asked to comment on this story but declined.

McGowan, who is a real estate agent in Stratford, was elected to a Town Council seat on Nov. 3. He was scheduled to take office on Dec. 7.

“We are building a community that is attracting younger families such as my wife and I, while still maintaining the traditional values that Trumbull holds dear,” he wrote in a letter to the editor in October. “To live in a town where the First Selectman was born and raised makes me feel very fortunate. I moved around a lot when I was younger so to know my future is in Trumbull makes this town more of a home to me than anywhere else I have lived.”

He added in that letter that he was first introduced to Trumbull by a classmate in early 2011 and “immediately fell in love with the town.”

“In early 2013, that same friend introduced me to First Selectman Tim Herbst,” he wrote. “With my background in commercial real estate, Tim invited me to be part of the Economic and Community Development Commission, where I witnessed firsthand the projects developed in our town.”

Open seat

When asked who would replace McGowan’s seat on the Town Council, Herbst said that the Republican Caucus would be making that selection per chapter 2, section 12 of the Town Charter. A timetable for that process was not given, but it isn’t expected to happen before next Monday’s swearing in ceremony.

In regards to whether or not McGowan’s background was thoroughly vetted, the first selectman responded that the indictment happened after the election and “would not have been picked up in June or July.”

“As for the Town of Trumbull, my administration has instituted a questionnaire for all nominees, both Republican and Democrat to answer and submit for purposes of vetting candidates,” he added.

Herbst reemphasized that “a person is innocent until proven guilty” in a follow-up to his statement and asked for residents to view McGowan’s case in that context.

“Mr. McGowan has every right to respond to these charges and clear his name,” he said. “I am going to let the judicial process run its course.”