*Editor's Note: The story has been updated to include funeral information.
SOMERVILLE, NJ – Matthew Tarentino, a Summit police officer driving from his home in Somerville to a school assembly, was one of two people killed early Tuesday morning in a three-car accident on Route 78.
Tarentino, 29, a longtime resident of the borough, is survived by his wife and two sons, ages 2 and 4; his wife is expecting a third child shortly, according to Msgr. Seamus Brennan, rector of Immaculate Conception Church where Tarentino and the family worshipped. He was very involved in parish activities, according to the monsignor.
“Clearly, this is a difficult time for the family, the church and the parish,” Rev. Brennan said, “but we will soldier on and support the family however we can. He will be greatly missed by his parish family.
“This is also a huge loss for the Summit Police Department,” he added. “They loved him as a police officer and as a friend.”
The accident occurred at 6:20 a.m. when a car headed westbound on Route 78 in Bernards crossed over the grass median and struck Tarentino’s vehicle, who was headed east, and a second car. Both drivers, whose identities are unknown, were taken to Morristown Medical Center; the hospital confirmed the death of the second driver several hours later. The extent of the third driver’s injuries is unknown.
The accident shut down Route 78 eastbound causing extensive traffic delays during rush hour. State Police are investigating the accident.
"With great sadness, the City of Summit Police Department announces the death of police Officer Matthew Tarentino at 6:20 a.m.," Summit police said in a statement.
Tarentino was the Summit Police Department’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer, and was a familiar fixture in Summit’s schools, where he conducted DARE programs.
He was on his way to speak with a group of 5th-graders about the dangers of drug abuse when the accident occurred.
Two weeks ago he had received his certification to be a DARE mentor, trained to educate other police officers to work with the program. He was one of 20 DARE police officers enrolled in the program, held at the Somerville Elks Lodge 1068 in Bridgewater.
“We are shocked and deeply saddened by this tragedy,” said Somerville Mayor Brian Gallagher. “All of Somerville’s thoughts and prayers are with the Tarentino family."
The mayor, who jogs to stay in shape, would cross paths frequently with Tarentino who was also a runner.
“He was just such a nice guy, with a wonderful family,” Gallagher said.
Tarentino’s involvement with Immaculate Conception School goes back to his years as a student there in the late 1990s. After graduating eighth grade, he attended Immaculata High School, graduating in 2006; his wife Vickie also attended IHS, graduating in 2005. She is the director of Marketing at IHS.
Tarentino was a member of the marching band and concert band and played varsity tennis while a student at IHS, according to Ken Greg, a 1983 graduate of IHS who lives a few blocks from the Tarentinos. Both families have been friends going back several generations. Greg took drum lessons at Connie's a music studio on Davenport Street that was owned by Tarentino's grandfather and in later years, his father.
"I'd describe him as one of the nicest people I ever met, he had a good soul and never had a bad word to say about anybody," Greg said.
Tarentino was also president of the Immaculate Conception School Advisory Council, working with Msgr. Brennan and Sister Mary Chapman, school principal on curriculum, technology in the classroom, planning programs and activities.
One of those programs was the school’s annual Blue Mass tribute March 30 to honor the men and women of law enforcement, with over 100 police officers from more than one dozen departments in attendance.
Summit Police Chief Robert Weck issued the following statement:
“In a tragic accident earlier today, the Summit Police Department and the entire city of Summit lost a valued officer, community member and friend. This loss has greatly affected not only our law enforcement community and the citizens of the city of Summit, but people far and wide.
“Matthew Tarentino epitomized what a law enforcement officer should be: a respected, trusted colleague with unshakeable dedication and enthusiasm for his calling. He was the face of the department’s community policing unit and understood the importance of building relationships within Summit.
“This was validated by our department being recognized last week by the NJ State Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino with the 2017 Outstanding Community Policing award. To those who have reached out to our department, we thank you. Your support has been extraordinarily touching and is a clear indication of how well respected Officer Tarentino was in our community.
“ During his short time with us, Matt created a lasting imprint on our department and the city. While Officer Matthew Tarentino may be gone, he will never be forgotten. The coming days, weeks and months will undoubtedly be difficult for all of us. We ask for the continued support of the community and for everyone to keep his wife, two boys and family in your thoughts and prayers.”
Funeral arrangements have been announced for Tarentino. Viewing hours will be 4-8 p.m. Sunday, June 4, at Immaculate Conception RC Church, 35 Mountain Blvd., Somerville; the funeral mass will be at 10 a.m. Monday, June 5 at the church.