“He just wanted to go out and unwind,” said Jorge Monroig about his brother Omar.
On March 21, 2012, Omar had celebrated his birthday quietly with his wife and son. Two days later, on a Friday, “He went out with his coworker, just to have a few cocktails and relax,” said his brother. They were heading to Havana Dulce Restaurant on Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen.
Omar Monroig never made it.
The coworker walked across Tonnelle Avenue first, just north of 51st Street at a little before midnight. Omar followed behind.
“He was struck in the northbound left lane,” said Lt. Robert Farley, who worked on the case. “He was thrown 110 feet exactly. The vehicle fled the scene.”
“When the impact occurred, his coworker insisted nobody touch him,” said Jorge Monroig. “A lot of people came to his aid, from the restaurant, the gas station. Nobody thought of chasing down the car in all the confusion.”
“According to his friend he was awake for a few seconds gasping for air before he passed out,” said Jorge of his brother.
Omar was rushed to Hackensack University Medical Center, where he was put in an induced coma. “In the hospital he woke up for a few seconds and opened his eyes, and they had to put him under again,” said Jorge. “The doctor said it would be too much of a shock to his system.”
For the next eight days, friends and family sat vigil. “We really thought he was going to make it,” said Jorge. “The doctor called and said, ‘This guy really wants to live.’ He was only 42 and he was the picture of health.”
In fact, Omar Monroig was healthier than most. A semi-professional bodybuilder, he was training for competition with a possibility of turning pro.
“We believe it was definitely a Toyota Camry from evidence left at the scene.” –Lt. Robert Farley
In his spare time, Omar supported charitable causes. “He used to give blood almost monthly,” said Jorge. “He volunteered at the soup kitchen, he did the annual 5K walk to raise money, he helped distribute food at Thanksgiving, stuff like that.”
On April 1, 2012, Omar Monroig died from injuries sustained in the hit-and-run.
“We have video surveillance all over Tonnelle,” said Lt. Farley. “Our camera on 61st definitely caught the aftermath. It captured the vehicle with front end damage to the hood and the windshield. It was smoking heavily from radiator. Probably the radiator was cracked.”
Unfortunately, despite having the car on video, police were unable to determine exact details.
“The problem is, it’s digital, so when you zoom in, it breaks down. It pixilates,” said Lt. Farley
“We believe it was definitely a Toyota Camry from evidence left at the scene. Between 2001 and 2004, four-door black or blue.”
The police checked with body shops for damage and worked with New York City on trying to track down the vehicle, but no solid leads materialized. Two weeks after the accident, they tried a different approach, setting up a checkpoint at the intersection where the accident occurred, at around the same time on a Friday night. There, they handed out flyers seeking information on the incident.
“One of the guys we handed a flyer to ended up being a security guard in North Bergen,” said Lt. Farley. “He called our detective bureau a couple of days after he saw the flyer.”
The security guard had seen a car matching the description not long after the accident occurred, and had even spoken with the driver. “The vehicle actually turned up Granton Avenue and made a left [onto Columbia Avenue], probably looking for someplace to hide,” said Lt. Farley. “It’s a dead end at the end of Columbia Avenue, a senior building. The security guard saw the car pull up and realize was a dead end.”
At that point the security guard approached the driver of the car and chased him off the lot. Once again the car was captured on video, but the image was not sharp enough to make out details like the license plate.
However, the police now had an eyewitness, and a sketch of the driver was drawn and circulated.
“The age that we have for the driver is between 50 and 70,” said Lt. Farley. “Between 220 and 250 pounds, 5’8” to 5’10”, with a heavy, stocky build. The guy appeared to be from a Slavic country.”
Still seeking closure
March 23 will be the second anniversary of the hit-and-run. The driver who struck and killed Omar Monroig still hasn’t been identified.
“I don’t know how this guy can sleep at night,” said Jorge Monroig.
According to Jorge, the police followed up on more than 200 reports but none of them panned out.
“Our family hired a private investigator, a retired state trooper. He sent the videotape to Alabama, where they teach the FBI, the CIA, the NSA,” he said. “They have a program where they enhance video. We were hoping they could enhance it. They didn’t charge us anything.”
Despite their efforts, no further details on the car or driver could be provided.
The family has continued to seek closure by offering a reward of $20,000 for information.
“These are friends and family who have pledged to pay for the reward,” said Jorge.
Also, the family participated in an additional exercise in conjunction with the police. “Back in December the police were doing a DWI [checkpoint], and they asked if we would like to hand out flyers at the same time,” said Jorge. “So we came out from 9 p.m to 1 a.m. We had 13 volunteers and we handed out like 2000 flyers. Our hope was to create more leads.”
“It was a very positive thing,” Jorge continued. “Omar’s wife and son were there, a group of his friends and family, my sister, my niece.”
Another informational checkpoint is scheduled for Friday, April 4, beginning at 9 p.m. at the intersection of Tonnelle Avenue & 51st Street. Omar’s friends and family will again be there, handing out flyers and seeking information.
“My parents are retired and nothing would please me more than to bring closure to them,” said Jorge Monroig. “I want to honor my brother.”
Anyone with information about the incident should contact the North Bergen Police Department’s Traffic Division at (201) 392-2135.
Art Schwartz may be reached at email@example.com.