News: July 2011
Hammonton woman’s lie leads to trooper’s death and 15-year prison sentence
Published July 11, 2011
HOWELL — As Diana Hoffman’s life was spiraling out of control last summer, New Jersey State Police Trooper Marc K. Castellano’s was just taking off.
The two — who had never met — became forever bound by a tragedy launched by Hoffman’s lie about a man holding a gun to her while she drove at lightning speeds on the Garden State Parkway eluding police.
It was that lie that brought Castellano and a team of police officers to Interstate 195 in Howell last June 6 to search for the non-existent armed man when the 29-year-old father of two was fatally stuck by a passing motorist.
It was also that lie that landed Hoffman, a drug-addicted mother of four, in prison yesterday for 15 years.
“It’s a story of contrasts, of two contradictory lives that fatefully intersected about 13 months ago,” said Richard Incremona, the deputy first assistant prosecutor in Monmouth County. “She did kill someone that day. She did it just as sure as she was driving that car that day.”
The tragedy began to unfold when a state trooper stopped to talk to Hoffman, who was pulled over on the Garden State Parkway in Ocean County. Without warning, she sped off. An officer later spotted her car on the shoulder of I-195, and Castellano was one of several officers who began looking for what Hoffman said had been a man with a gun. He was standing on the shoulder of the road when he was struck and killed.
She would later admit there had been no man.
• Diana Hoffman gets 15-year prison sentence for raising false public alarm that led to State Police trooper’s death
• Hammonton woman who made false claim to police, which led to trooper’s death, to be sentenced
• Authorities say N.J. woman raised false public alarm that led to State Police trooper’s death
• Thousands mourn fallen N.J. State Trooper in Monmouth County
Hoffman, 31, pleaded guilty in April in Monmouth County to raising a false public alarm, eluding and two motor vehicle offenses for reckless driving and speeding. Weeks later, she was sentenced to seven years in prison for eluding police in Burlington County in an unrelated case,
In Freehold yesterday, Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Mellaci Jr. sentenced Hoffman to 15 years in prison, to run consecutively with the sentence handed down in Burlington County. She will be eligible for parole in 8½ years.
Hoffman, whose wrists were shackled, cried as she apologized to Castellano’s relatives seated several feet away. Castellano’s younger brother, Nick Castellano, an Ocean Township police officer, sat stone-faced in his uniform. The trooper’s widow, seated with her sister and mother, sobbed. And behind them, 13 state troopers filled nearly two rows.
In the back of the courtroom, Hoffman’s mother, Charlotte Zawojski, sat alone crying.
“I’m really sorry,” she said. “If I could turn back time, I would. My crying, it comes from my heart because I do feel the pain. “I’m so sorry for what happened. And I can’t turn back time, but if I could, I would bring him back.”
Hoffman was a habitual drug user who was in and out of rehabilitation, Incremona said. In 13 years, her driver’s license was suspended 24 times. She was arrested 28 times and convicted 16 times — mostly for theft charges — in municipal court and four times in superior court, he said. Even before last summer, the state Division of Youth and Family Services had tried to take custody of the children, he said.
Her record was not lost on Mellaci, who said she has a “contempt of society’s mores” and a “lack of respect for any type of authority.”
Castellano’s mother, Donna Setaro, stood composed as she told Mellaci about the future her family will never have with her son.
“The final hours we spent with Marc are galvanized in our memories forever,” she said. “The sentence that she receives today is nothing compared to the life of pain, heartbreak that she has caused our family.”
But Zawojski saw it differently. “I could see if she murdered him, ran him over with her vehicle,” she said. “I know she was wrong for the eluding, but she wasn’t wrong for his death. She wasn’t.”
MaryAnn Spoto/The Star-Ledger
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