FRENCHTOWN — A heavy-duty tow truck went off the road and smashed into a building and caused it to catch fire late Monday night, according to investigators.

Fundraising efforts are underway to help those affected by the fire, which destroyed two businesses.

The three-alarm fire broke out after the truck and the large trailer it was hauling went off southbound Route 513 around 10:40 p.m. and went into the building housing Galasso’s Pizzeria on Bridge Avenue, according to Hunterdon County Prosecutor Anthony Kearns III.

The fire quickly spread to the neighboring Frenchtown Cafe and caused extensive damage to both businesses, which were unoccupied at the time. The resident of one of the apartments on the upper level made it out safely with the help of good Samaritans, according to Kearns.

Frenchtown fire
(Robert Haver)

The driver, Roberto Velez, 37, of Kearny, suffered minor injuries and refused medical treatment at the scene. The truck was registered to B&L Towing and Recovery of Carteret.

Route 29 remained closed as heavy duty equipment removed debris from the scene.

Borough resident Robert Haver said everyone in the Hunterdon County community is rallying behind the victims.

"The whole town has come together, bringing the workers food and drinks, arranged through the local book store," Haver said.

"Other area restaurants have offered jobs to the employees who will be out of work. The church is helping collect appropriate sized clothes and other goods for those who lost everything, along with the GoFundMe. It's the kind of community effort that makes Frenchtown so special."

Frenchtown fire
(Mayor Brad Myhre)

Responding agencies included the Frenchtown Fire Department, Quakertown Fire Department, Kingwood Township Fire Department, Stockton Fire Department, Raritan Township Fire Department, Flemington Fire Department, West Amwell Fire Department, Holland Fire Department, Clinton Fire Department, Annandale Fire Department, Lebanon Fire Department, Ottsville PA Fire Department, Erwinna PA Fire Department, and Upper Black Eddy PA Fire Department.

“I commend the dedication and commitment of the volunteer firefighters from Hunterdon County and the surrounding areas for their quick response to this fire," Kearns said. "Without the tremendous response from these volunteers it is likely the damage to the businesses in the area would have been far worse. We are grateful to the firefighters that worked throughout the night and early morning hours to extinguish the blaze. We are very fortunate to have such a fine volunteer system of brave men and women."

The borough is working with the Frenchtown United Methodist Church on a fundraising effort to help those who lost their home. There also is a GoFundMe page.

"We are raising funds for the victims that have been displaced from their homes. Funds will go towards replacing what was lost and helping them get back on their feet," according to a message on the fundraising page.

A second fundraiser was created to assist Joe McGee and Jess Rinker, a couple married just over week ago.

The purpose of the fund is to "grant peace of mind so that they can rebuild, get back to writing amazing stories to share with the world, and cherish their new life together."

Kearns asked anyone with information about the incident to call the prosecutor's office at 908-788-1129.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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