CHARLTON — A Massachusetts State Police trooper was killed during a routine traffic stop around noon Wednesday when a car swerved off the Massachusetts Turnpike and smashed into his cruiser in the breakdown lane.
Thomas L. Clardy, 44, a US Marine Corps veteran and a married father of six children, had returned to his parked cruiser after pulling over a driver for a traffic violation when it was struck by a Nissan Maxima that had swerved across all three travel lanes, authorities said.
The wayward car smashed into the back of Clardy’s Ford Explorer without slowing, delivering a “tremendous impact,” Colonel Richard McKeon, superintendent of the State Police, said at a somber news conference.
Clardy, who joined the State Police in 2005, was extremely well-liked by his colleagues and had earned a reputation as a “hard worker, a good trooper, and a great man,”
“All who knew him have, today, borne witness to his outstanding character,” he said.
Clardy leaves his wife, Reisa, and four girls and two boys, ages 4 to 17. “We pray for them,” he said. “We will forever hold them tight to our hearts, for the rest of their lives.”
The driver of the Nissan, identified as David Njuguna of Webster, was charged with negligent operation of a motor vehicle and failure to stay within marked lanes, McKeon said. Authorities are also seeking the immediate suspension of his driver’s license and could file additional criminal charges against him.
Njuguna suffered serious injuries in the crash.
Njuguna’s license was suspended for 180 days in October 2013 when he refused to take a breathalyzer after being stopped by police in Oxford, according to Registry of Motor Vehicles records. His license was reinstated in June 2014 after he paid a reinstatement fee, and it was valid at the time of Wednesday’s crash, according to the records.
The only other incident on his Massachusetts driving record came in October 2012, when he was involved in an accident in Webster that led to a surcharge on his insurance.
In a telephone interview, a relative of Njuguna’s said the family was distraught over what happened.
“On behalf of the family, we are devastated because of the loss of this trooper,” said the relative, who asked not to be identified for fear of a negative backlash. “We are saddened by the loss and I can’t even imagine him with six children being left behind and a wife. They are in our prayers. It’s a very, very sad situation.”
A native of Kenya, Njuguna came to the United States around 2009 and works as a medical technician, the relative said.
On his Facebook page, Njuguna wrote that he studied accounts and finance in Kenya and moved to the Worcester area last fall.
“He’s a good guy, a sweet guy with no problems,” the relative said.
Asked what could have made Njuguna abruptly swerve across traffic, the relative said it was highly out of character.
“That’s unlike him to do that,” he said. “I can’t even explain that.”
Family members were planning to go to the hospital Wednesday night and hoped they would be able to see Njuguna.
Clardy was the first trooper to die from injuries sustained in the line of duty since 2011, when Ellen Engelhardt succumbed to her injuries from a crash eight years earlier. A drunk driver had slammed into the rear of her cruiser while it was parked on the shoulder on Route 25 in Wareham.
In 2010, Sergeant Douglas Weddleton was killed while on a highway traffic detail in Mansfield when one alleged drunk driver plowed into another, trapping him under a car.
Clardy had been scheduled to start his shift at 3 p.m., but began early to work a supplemental patrol shift with the goal of preventing crashes.
After pulling over a car for a traffic violation, Clardy was sitting in his police car, gathering information from the car he just pulled over, when his cruiser was struck by the Nissan.
The impact pushed Clardy’s cruiser into the car that had been pulled over. The driver and two passengers in that car were not injured.
Clardy, who lived in Hudson, sustained traumatic injuries in the crash and was taken to a Worcester hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
On the State Police scanner, emergency personnel spoke in urgent tones as they saw the severity of the crash.
“Officer/trooper just got struck,” one said.
“I need the jaws here,” another said. A third person called for an ambulance “as fast as we can.”
At the State Police barracks in Charlton where Clardy was stationed, troopers held their heads in sadness and embraced each other. The news conference was delayed for hours as State Police officers notified Clardy’s family of his death, and investigators searched the three cars involved in the accident.
The front half of the Nissan was crunched in, its air bags deployed.
Clardy’s cruiser, a Ford Explorer, was next to Njuguna’s car, completely covered by a white sheet.
According to his Facebook page, Clardy is from Park City, Utah, and studied marine biology at the University of Utah.
Kathy McCabe of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Astead W. Herndon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH Shelley Murphy can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.