Nearly a year into the investigation of the hit-and-run accident that killed body builder Omar Monroig on Tonnelle Avenue, North Bergen police conducted an informational checkpoint on Friday, Feb. 15 from 9 p.m. until 1 a.m., distributing 4,000 informational fliers to drivers. Police are focused on Toyotas, since the suspect was driving a Camry.
“I think it goes back to basics,” said Lt. Robert Farley last week. “We’re at the location and just about the same time it happened, same day of the week, and people tend to travel in the same direction.”
The checkpoint impacted the north and southbound lanes of 52nd Street and Tonnelle Avenue where the accident occurred.
“We hope that we can get some plausible lead that we can follow that hopefully will lead to an arrest or at least identification of the vehicle,” said Hudson County Sheriff’s Crash Investigation Unit Sergeant Bruce Miller.
Although drivers were inconvenienced by the checkpoint, residents felt it was necessary to find the suspect.
“If it was one of my family members, I would want this,” said North Bergen resident Feroz Ali.
Looking for closure
The car hit the Butler resident on March 23 at 11:43 p.m. in the northbound lane of Tonnelle Avenue at 52nd Street. Monroig had made plans with his friend Arnaldo Arroyo to celebrate his birthday in the area. According to camera footage and an eyewitness, Monroig was struck by what is believed to be a dark-colored 2001-2004 Toyota Camry.
Arroyo said in police terminology that Monroig “hood surfed” the car for 110 feet prior to falling onto the road.
Monroig fought to live for eight days, but the injuries he sustained were too severe. He died on April 1 at Hackensack University Medical Center. He was 42 years old and left behind his wife and 18-year-old son.
“There’s someone that committed a vehicular homicide and we want to find this person.”—Police Chief Robert Dowd
Family and friends of Monroig are offering a $20,000 reward to anyone with information leading to the apprehension of the alleged hit-and-run driver.
Anyone with information is urged to call the North Bergen Police Department at (201) 392-2141 or (201) 330-0809. For further information, visit www.northbergenpolice.org.
Members of Monroig’s family have not missed one informational checkpoint, a factor police believe is vital.
“I think [having] the family members there is good because it hits home,” said Lt. Farley.
The family wants closure, which is why they continue to attend the checkpoints.
“This family deserves closure,” said Chief of Police Robert Dowd. “We’re here to support them.”
“I just hope they catch this guy so the family can have closure,” said Adelaide Veloso, fiancé of Monroig’s brother Jorge.
An earlier informational checkpoint turned up a witness, which is how police acquired a sketch.
“We felt the first one was really a success because it led to the sketch,” said Dowd. “Maybe we’ll get lucky again.”
According to the sketch the suspect is described as a white male, age 50-70, with “tan or olive skin,” weighing 220-250 pounds. The suspect is approximately 5 foot 8 inches to 5 foot 10 inches, has brown hair and dark eyes, and has a “noticeable” mole near his mouth.
Police officials said the suspect’s vehicle carried New York license plates, which led them to pursue several leads on Long Island.
Jorge Monroig hired a private investigator who obtained police permission to speak with the witness, who told him he was surprised the Toyota had still been working, considering the condition of the car.
Never giving up
Jorge asked police for the most recent checkpoint in an attempt to remind drivers of the hit and run.
“We’re all working together for one goal, to help Omar,” said Jorge. “If we keep going, we’re eventually gonna find some answers.”
Chief Dowd demonstrated how important the case is by taking part in the informational checkpoint on his day off.
“We’ve followed up thousands of hours of leads, viewing video [footage] from all the gateways in New York City,” said Dowd. “We’ve met with auto body dealers, tow truck drivers, auto glass wholesalers and every time we’ve eliminated suspects we’ve continued to call Jorge Monroig. There’s someone that committed a vehicular homicide and we want to find this person.”
Monroig’s family and friends have been relentless in searching for the suspect. His sister Mayda Monroig participated in the checkpoint. She was asked by a driver passing by who Monroig was to her, when she held a photo of him, to which she replied, “That was my brother.”
“We’re not going to stop until they catch this guy,” she said.
Mayda is still shocked that the suspect has not turned himself in.
“How can you live everyday knowing you killed someone?” asked Mayda. “How can you go on with your life?”
Vanessa Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org