NJ state trooper dies after being struck by car

Pictured: Trooper Marc Castellano

June 7, 2010 1:37:55 PM PDT
New Jersey State Police have suspended their search for a man being sought in connection with an incident that led to a trooper's death Sunday.

The extensive search began shortly after trooper Marc Castellano was struck by a car around 10 a.m. in a westbound lane of Interstate 195 in Howell. At the time, he was assisting in the search for two people who had reportedly abandoned a vehicle.

The abandoned auto's driver, 30-year-old Diana Hoffman of Blackwood, was later found hiding nearby in the woods and was taken into custody.

Hoffman told authorities that a man was riding with her, and dozens of troopers, local police and other law enforcement personnel spent hours looking for him.

But Capt. Gerald Lewis Jr. said Sunday night that investigators were "questioning the validity" of Hoffman's claims, and said charges against her were pending.

Lewis said Hoffman's auto was not the vehicle that hit Castellano, a married father of two young children who had been a trooper for five years and was a member of the Troop "C" Tactical Patrol Unit. Lewis would not provide details about the car involved in the accident or who was driving it.

"The loss of trooper Castellano is a difficult blow to absorb," State Police Superintendent Colonel Rick Fuentes said. "The New Jersey State Police prides itself on being a family and the loss of our brother will be felt throughout the entire Division of state police."

Dozens of troopers, local police and other law enforcement personnel were involved in the search for Hoffman's alleged passenger, as were state police helicopters and several local K-9 units. Traffic was backed up for miles in both directions on the interstate for most of the day, as investigators set up a a command post at a nearby auto dealer lot on a hot, hazy day.

Four law enforcement officials were taken to a local hospital for treatment related to heat exhaustion during the day, but no other health-related problems were reported.

Gov. Chris Christie had gone to the hospital earlier in the day to visit with Castellano's family, as did Fuentes. And during a media availability in Mahwah, the governor had urged people to pray for Castellano and his family.

Fuentes said Castellano was "the embodiment of the finest ideals" of the state police force.