Woman's False Alarm Led to State Trooper's Death
The front row of the courtroom is lined with uniformed New Jersey State Police Troopers during the initial appearance of Diana Hoffman, a 30-year-old mother of four from Blackwood who is charged in connection with the death of Trooper Marc K. Castellano.
The Star-Leger via YellowBrix
June 08, 2010
HOWELL, NJ — As eight state troopers created a wall of blue in a Freehold courtroom gallery, Diana Hoffman was presented a list of offenses that authorities allege led to Sunday’s death of New Jersey State Trooper Marc K. Castellano.
Explaining the charge of false public alarm brought by his office, Executive Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor Richard Incremona told Superior Court Judge Thomas Scully Monday that Hoffman indirectly caused Castellano’s death by causing authorities to search for a phantom companion.
‘‘That is a first-degree offense that holds the defendant strictly liable for the actions that led to the unfortunate untimely death of Trooper Marc Castellano by setting in motion a chain of events that led to his death even though she did not commit the offense herself,’’ Incremona said.
Castellano, a 29-year-old father of two, was hit by a 2010 Volkswagen Jetta driven by Robert R. Swan, 20, of Jackson, as the trooper was on the shoulder of Route 195 west near exit 31B, said Monmouth County Prosecutor Luis Valentin.
Castellano and other officers and troopers were searching for an armed man Hoffman, 30, claimed had been in her Ford Fusion that was stopped on the side of Route 195.
‘‘The initial information provided by Diana Hoffman about the presence of a second individual was deliberately false,’’ said First Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor Peter Warshaw Jr.
Dressed in a maroon jail-issued jump suit and standing with her hands shackled to her waist, Hoffman, of Blackwood, yawned four times during the 10 minute proceeding.
A single mother of four who told authorities she last worked for a gutter company in Berlin, Hoffman also is charged with eluding, hindering apprehension, resisting arrest and possession of heroin and cocaine.
New Jersey State Police Trooper Marc K. Castellano was killed Sunday after being struck by a car during a police search in Howell.
Valentin said Hoffman drove off when the trooper pulled up behind her to check whether she needed assistance.
‘‘She left the location and began to flee the area, achieving high rates of speed at excess of the posted speed limit,’’ Valentin said.
He said the trooper ended the pursuit for safety reasons after she got off the parkway at Exit 98 in Wall Township.
About 75 minutes later, other law enforcement agencies in the area found Hoffman near her car pulled off the side of the road on Route 195 West near exit 31B, Warshaw said. She allegedly told police officers she was with an armed man, prompting a massive search for a person who police later learned was non-existent.
Castellano was on the shoulder of the road in that area when he was struck by Swan’s vehicle. State Police have said Swan stopped after the collision. The investigation into the cause of the crash is still under investigation and no summonses have been issued so far, Valentin said.
Incremona said Hoffman has had ‘‘multiple contacts’’ with the court system and three times failed to appear for proceedings in Superior Court.
With her past criminal history — which court records show at least six theft charges and two drug offenses from Camden and Gloucester counties — Hoffman would be eligible for extended prison sentences, which could subject her to life in prison if convicted of the false public alarm charge, the most serious offense.
Hoffman is being held in the Monmouth County jail on $1.2 million bail.
Her attorney, Assistant Deputy Public Defender Van Lane, said his office will evaluate the case and determine what motions will be filed.