SUMMIT, NJ — The communities of Summit and Somerville were plunged into mourning last week as news spread of the untimely death of a police officer whom young people called their “hero” and colleagues considered family.
Matthew Tarentino, 29, of Somerville, was on his way to work on Tuesday, May 30, when he was involved in a multi-car accident at 6:20 a.m. on Interstate 78 in Bernards. According to a May 30 press release, a westbound car crossed the highway and struck two eastbound vehicles. Two other people were injured in the accident and taken to Morristown Hospital. One of them, the driver of the westbound car, died. The other sustained non life-threatening injuries, according to police..
“Matthew was the epitome of what a police officer should be,” Summit Mayor Nora Radest told LocalSource over the phone on May 31. “He was dedicated to the people, proud of the community and touched so many lives. He was always upbeat and positive. He took an active role in the community. He was especially focused on the young people. The fifth graders were very sad to hear about this because he was their hero.”
Tarentino worked with fifth graders in Summit as one of its D.A.R.E. officers. He had been anticipating the students’ graduation, which was being held that very night.
He is survived by his wife, Victoria, who is pregnant with their third child and is due in August, and two sons, ages 2 and 4.
After many members of community asked how they could help, the Summit PAL set up a fundraising website with the goal of raising $500,000 to offset funeral costs and other expenses for the family. As of noon Monday, the day of his funeral, more than $432,000 had been raised.
“A group of us put together a fundraiser on youcaring.com to address the immediate needs of the family,” Summit PAL President Kevin Smallwood told LocalSource over the phone on May 31. “We will get together again to discuss how we can help them long term, but we really want them to have access to immediate funds. Matthew was a very caring and dedicated individual who genuinely loved his job. He touched so many lives. This won’t be the only thing we do to help the family, but this was our urgency. In just 14 hours we collected $127,000. This is a tremendous outpouring of community support in such a short amount of time. It’s one of the top trending fundraisers on the website right now.”
In addition, Tarentino received a posthumous promotion. The Summit Police Department announced his promotion to detective, effective May 31. He had served on the force for five years.
“Matt was an exceptional police officer and fully deserving of this honor,” Summit Police Chief Robert Weck said in a May 31 press release announcing the decision. “He was highly respected within our department and throughout the Summit community. His legacy is one of strong community connections and balanced, enthusiastic outreach. While he may be gone, he will never be forgotten, and his family will always be part of ours.”
The fundraiser site can be accessed at https://www.youcaring.com/victoriatarentino-835682.
Meanwhile, Governor Christie ordered flags be flown at half-staff Monday, June 5, in his honor, the day of his funeral Mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Somerville. Interment followed at Resurrection Cemetery in Piscataway.
The Summit Police Department also announced Tarantino’s promotion to detective as of May 31. He had served for five years on the force.
“Matt was an exceptional police officer and fully deserving of this honor,” explains Summit Police Chief Robert Weck in the May 31 press release.“He was highly respected within our department and throughout the Summit community .His legacy is one of strong community connections and balanced, enthusiastic outreach. While he may be gone, he will never be forgotten, and his family will always be part of ours.”
On Monday, June 5, the county prosecutor’s office issued its statement of support in the wake of the officer’s death.
“We, the law enforcement community here in Union County, have been grieving the loss of Detective Tarentino this past week. During his time of service, he was an extraordinary officer who made an impact in Summit through his significant community policing efforts,” acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park said. “Because of his deep commitment to his family, his community, and his faith, he was loved, admired, and respected by many. We extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to his friends and family, and his colleagues at the Summit Police Department, in this time of shared grief.”