SOMERVILLE, NJ – More than 1,000 police officers and thousands of mourners are expected to crowd Immaculate Conception RC Church on Sunday and Monday to pay respects to 29-year-old Somerville resident Matthew Tarentino, a Summit police officer who was killed in a 3-car accident on Route 78 Tuesday.
Viewing hours will be at the church Sunday, June 4, 4-8 p.m. The funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Monday, June 5. The church is located at 35 Mountain Ave.
Borough police have been busy making preparations for the heavy influx of visitors and resultant traffic expected both Sunday and Monday. It is a fluid process, according to Somerville Police Capt. Joseph Clymore, with contingency plans undergoing constant revisions. Police will be located at key intersections to re-route traffic from the affected area both days.
Mountain Avenue will be closed to traffic portions of both days between West End Avenue and Route 22, according to Clymore.
Police went door-to-door Thursday distributing flyers to residents on the side streets off Mountain Avenue.
The flyer reads:
“On Sunday, June 4th 2017 and June 5th 2017, a portion of the borough of Somerville will be affected by the funeral services of Somerville resident and Summit Police Officer (Detective) Matthew Tarentino.
“On Sunday, the hours to expect road closures and limited access will be approximately 3 pm to 9 p.m.
“On Monday, the hours to expect road closures and limited access will be approximately 7 a.m.-12 p.m.
“The areas affected will be all the streets connected to Mountain Avenue from West End Avenue to Route 22.
“Residents of Mountain Avenue and all connecting streets are asked for their cooperation during this difficult time and not park in the roadway. Motorists are advised to avoid this area and plan an alternate route during the dates and times mentioned.”
Clymore said finding enough parking is challenging. Police are hoping to direct visitors to Municipal Parking Lots 1 and 2; parking will also be available at Immaculate Conception School and Immaculata High School. Jack Morris, developer of the Edge luxury apartments on Main Street in downtown Somerville, has also offered his parking lot for visitors, according to Clymore.
Other parking will be on the side streets in the vicinity of the church, Clymore added.
Following the funeral mass Monday, a procession will proceed from the church down Mountain Avenue, on to Route 22 and Route 287 and head to Resurrection Cemetery, 899 East Lincoln Ave. in Piscataway for graveside services, according to Clymore.
Multiple police departments and the New Jersey State Police will be involved securing the state highway, the interstate and local roadways to facilitate the funeral procession.
Traffic delays are expected on Route 22 and Route 287.
Monsignor Seamus Brennan, rector of Immaculate Conception, will preside at the funeral mass.
Immaculate Conception School and Immaculata High School will be closed on Monday, according to the monsignor, to allow teachers and staff to attend the Mass. The couple was well known in the parish. Both come from long-established Somerville families.
Tarentino’s widow Vickie is Marketing Director at the high school; his mother-in-law is the music teacher at Immaculate Conception.
Both Tarentino and his wife had attended the grammar school and high school together.
The Tarentino’s were married in 2011 and have two young sons, ages 2 and 3; his wife is expected to deliver their third child in August.
“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 Summit Police Athletic League (PAL) has established an online donation site to for the family. The page, located on the 'compassionate crowdfunding' portal youcaring.com, has set a goal of $500,000. As June 2 at 12 p.m., the fund had raised $343,757.
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 graduated in 2005
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.
The accident occurred at 6:20 a.m. May 30 when a car headed westbound on Route 78 in Bernards crossed over the grass median and struck Tarentino’s vehicle, who was headed east. Tarentino's vehicle then struck another car, according to State Police.
The driver of the car that crossed the median and struck Tarentino's vehicle died at Morristown Medical Center later that afternoon. The third driver, who was struck by Tarentino's car, was also transported to Morristown Medical Center with non-threatening injuries. State Police identified the third driver as 54-year-old Larry Staley of Easton, PA.
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.
Following high school Tarentino attended The Catholic University of America, but traveled back to New Jersey to complete his Bachelors of Art degree in Communication, Summa Cum Laude, from Rutgers University.
In 2011, he entered the Somerset County Police Academy, graduated, and began work with the South Bound Brook Police Department. He went on to work for the Rutgers University Police Department, before he was hired by the Summit Police Department in 2012.
“This loss has greatly affected not only our law enforcement community and the citizens of the city of Summit, but people far and wide,” said Summit Police Chief Robert Weck.
“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. 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 Summit Police Department has promoted Tarentino to the rank of Detective posthumously.
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, celebrated at Immaculate Conception church March 30 to honor the men and women of law enforcement, with over 100 police officers from more than one dozen departments in attendance.
Many of those officers will return to pay their respects to Tarentino and his family on Sunday and Monday.