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Off-Duty NYPD Officer Killed After Driving Wrong Way On New York State Thruway

SUFFERN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- An off-duty New York City police officer was killed after driving south on the northbound lanes of the New York State Thruway on Tuesday, officials said.

Richard Christopher, 32, of Suffern, was behind the wheel of a pickup truck when he drove the wrong way around 7 a.m. between exits 14B and 15 in Suffern and crashed into a sport utility vehicle driven by James DeVito, according to New York State Police.

DeVito, 59, of Airmont, was also killed. Both drivers were pronounced dead at the scene, police Capt. Richard Mazzone said.

PHOTOS: New York State Thruway Crash

There were no passengers in either vehicle.

"Our condolences go out to both the families of the deceased," Mazzone said.

Wrong-Way Crash Kills 2 On New York State Thruway In Suffern

Richard Christopher's stepmother, Joan Christopher, told CBS 2's Diane Macedo that Christopher was an Army veteran who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia, and that he was driving to work at the 43rd Precinct in the Bronx.

"He was just a loving son," said Joan Christopher, who also offered her family's condolences to the DeVito family. "He would do anything for anybody, but why did he have to die?

As CBS 2's Jessica Schneider reported, Christopher's parents have no idea why the Army veteran would drive the wrong way on the route that he traveled every day.

"He served in the war. He served our country. He came home and became a police officer."

Bonnie Stark, DeVito's neighbor, described him as a "family man" who recently lost his wife to cancer.

"He put in a pool in the backyard so his granddaughter could come swimming," Stark told Macedo. "I know he was a hard worker.

"He definitely was a very decent man. It shouldn't have happened to anybody, but it shouldn't have happened to him. It's a horrible, horrible, horrible way to go."

Wrong-Way Crash Kills 2 On New York State Thruway In Suffern

The northbound lanes of the thruway were closed for at least two hours as police investigated, snarling traffic for thousands of commuters during the morning rush.

"It could've been me if I was earlier," driver Janice Zezina told CBS 2's Weijia Jiang. "It's very scary."

Authorities were investigating to determine the point where Christopher entered the interstate and why he drove the wrong way, WCBS 880's Monica Miller reported.

Off-Duty NYPD Officer Killed After Driving South On Northbound Lane Of New York State Thruway

As 1010 WINS' Al Jones reported, New York State Thruway Authority executive director Thomas Madison said there is no confusion when it comes to markings on the road in the area.

"That area of the Thruway is clearly marked with all of the appropriate, required markings and additional markings where needed," Madison said.

Police are awaiting a toxicology report, Macedo reported. They were also awaiting an accident reconstruction report on Tuesday night.

Anyone with information about the crash is asked to contact state police at 845-364-0200.

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