BERNARDS — The return to work after a long holiday weekend was slowed by a fatal crash on Route 78 Tuesday morning that took the life of a well-respected police officer and another driver.

A grey Toyota Camry traveling westbound around 6:20 a.m. veered across the median just past Exit 33 for Route 525, and struck a red Honda Accord heading east driven by Summit police officer Matthew Tarentino, 29, according to State Police spokesman Trooper Laurence Peele.

Peele said Tarantino's car then struck a second Toyota also heading east in the right center lane.

Summit Police said Tarentino was off duty and driving to work in his own car.

State Police said Tuesday afternoon the driver of the westbound vehicle also died. They did not release the driver's identity because his relatives had not yet been notified.

Tarentino was set to attend a drug abuse education graduation program for fifth grade students later Tuesday. Tarentino is survived by his wife and two children with a third on the way. He was a five-year veteran of the department.

State Attorney General Christopher Porrino said that Tarentino was a featured recipient of a community policing outreach award at the NJ Attorney General’s Community Policing Awards last Monday. "We honor him and his incredible service," Porrino said.

Summit Police Chief Robert Weck said 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."

Weck said the response to Tarentino's death is a "clear indication of how well respected Officer Tarentino was" and that he left a "lasting imprint on our department and the city."

According to a notice on the website of Immaculata High School in Somerville, Tarentino was a member of the school's class of 2006 and his wife Vickie, a member of the school's class of 2005, is the school's director of marketing.

New Jersey State PBA President Patrick Colligan tweeted condolences and said Tarentino "impacted so many lives and will be greatly missed."

"We're once again dealing with a tragic situation and we're here to help in any way possible. Obviously our fatal accident unit is handling the investigation," State Troopers Fraternal Association president Christopher Burgoes told New Jersey 101.5.

Two other drivers were hospitalized with serious injuries.

None of the vehicles had passengers, according to Peele, who said the incident remains under investigation, including what caused the car to cross the median.

As of 11:50 a.m. a lane was open to traffic after the road was completely closed for several hours.

New Jersey 101.5's Bob Williams suggested using Route 22 or Route 525 as an alternative.

The crash also created delays exiting Route 287 for Route 78 east.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at

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