SPARTA, NJ – Students at Sparta High School had a powerful lesson about a new law last week. During their physical education classes the students sat silently in the bleachers as Donna Castellano described the indescribable; the death of her 29-year-old son.
Donna Castellano has been speaking about the law, following the roadside death of New Jersey State Trooper Marc Castellano. It is known as the Move Over law, officially it is New Jersey Statute 39:4-92.2. The law requires drivers who come upon emergency vehicles with its lights flashing to change lanes if possible or slow down “to a reasonable and proper speed for the existing road and traffic conditions and be prepared to stop.”
The purpose of her visits to schools, talking with students is to not only draw attention to the new law but also teach them there are consequences to their actions.
Donna Castellano methodically described the events that led to her son’s death, with the aid of Marc’s personal items and video presentation.
Marc Castellano and other troopers were searching for the passenger of an abandoned car on Interstate 195. The driver Diana Hoffman, 30, was later found hiding in the woods after the accident that took the life of the trooper.
“She was known as a frequent flyer to police,” Donna Castellano said. “[Hoffman] had been seen driving erratically and finally ran out of gas. She told police she had been car jacked by a man with a gun, who had run into the woods.”
The troopers knew that there was a neighborhood on the other side of the woods and prepared to search for the gunman, fearing others would get hurt, according to Donna Castellano. It was then that Marc Castellano was struck by a car driving on Route 195.
Marc Castellano, married with two young children, was taken to Jersey Shore Hospital. Donna Castellano described getting the phone call from her daughter-in-law Stephanie, arriving at the hospital to a “sea of police cars,” walking a gauntlet of police officers and state officials in the hospital, seeing her son on the gurney and looking into his eyes, “realizing he was no longer there.” He died a few hours after the accident.
Castellano’s mother continued talking with the students about the driver who hit her son. Robert Swan of Jackson was a West Point cadet. She said, “you have to be a good kid” to be a cadet. He was the number one wrestler in New Jersey at the same high school her son had attended years earlier.
“He took his eyes off the road for a second,” and that is when the accident happened, Donna Castellano said without any ill-will towards the young man. “Not one of us has not made a bad choice, but you learn from it and move on.”
The investigation found that Swan was not intoxicated, on drugs or on his cell phone at the time of the accident. He was not charged but did receive two tickets, “lost his car, cell phone and computer.” Swan returned to West Point, subsequently graduated and has served “two tours of duty in the Middle East as a paratrooper,” according to Donna Castellano.
She described Hoffman as having “a history of prostitution, passing bad checks, shoplifting and drug charges who has [four] children with three different people,” she said, contrasting Hoffman with Swan.
The investigation into Hoffman and the abandoned car found that the second man with a gun did not exist. She was charged with creating a false alarm, eluding police, hindering her own apprehension by providing false information, resisting arrest and heroin and cocaine possession. The Hammonton Township woman received a sentence of 15 years in prison in 2011. Her appeal was denied last month.
Video clips of Marc Castellano’s funeral and one called Consequences were played for the Sparta students.
Throughout her emotional talk Donna Castellano held up the little outfit her son wore home from the hospital as a newborn and his Christmas stocking along with kitkat bars and vanilla air fresheners she used to put in his stocking each year. She held up his trooper uniform shirt and the uniform he wore as a young athlete.
The props made the story relevant to the high school students, who remained still and quite throughout the 45 minute presentation; some with tears in their eyes. Those that raised their hands to answer questions received vanilla air fresheners and bookmarks reminding them of the law.
The law applies to any emergency vehicle stopped on the side of the road with yellow, blue, white or red lights flashing including police, fire, ambulance and tow trucks.
“Tell one person about this story,” Donna Castellano said. “Your actions could save a life.”