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Refusal to attend Hoboken crash hearing sparks subpoena threat

There are some things you don't do. Sailors know you don't spit into the wind. Singer Jim Croce observed that you don't pull on Superman's cape. In New Jersey, if police and asked you to submit to a breath test, you don't refuse. It could result in the immediate loss of your license regardless of whether you're under driving under the influence or not.

Another thing it's typically not wise to do is to disregard a call by the New Jersey legislature to appear for a hearing. Especially if it happens to deal with the recent disaster involving the deadly crash of a New Jersey Transit train in the station Hoboken. That's what NJ Transit officials opted to do, and now lawmakers are threatening to force an appearance.

That crash last month claimed the life of one person and left more than 100 others injured. Lawmakers called the hearing last week looking to collect information about the tragedy. Despite expectations, transit leaders didn't show.

Transportation Commissioner Richard Hammer said Transit's new executive director wasn't there because he had a meeting with federal regulators. And, when pressed with some specific questions, Hammer reportedly said he couldn't comment, citing the ongoing probe by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Lawmakers, angry and frustrated, reacted. One assemblyman said, "We're not to be trifled with," an apparent reference to the fact that the day before, the Assembly granted subpoena power to the judiciary committee. Lawmakers say they don't want to use that leverage, but they will if transit leaders skip a meeting now set for Nov. 4.

NJ Transit is under the microscope because it reportedly has the worst safety record of any major commuter service in the country. One report on the record says that of 183 federal safety citations since 2011, 33 involved drug or alcohol abuse violations.

Whether substance abuse by a train employee had anything to do with the recent crash is still unknown, but politicians aren't waiting. Meanwhile, in August, the governor signed a measure into law barring operators from taking the helm of trains if their driver's license has been suspended for DUI or for having refused a breath test.

Some things you shouldn't do. But defending against charges related to suspected drunk or drugged driving is not on the list. Rather, consult an attorney.

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