An Ocean County community is mourning the death of a veteran police officer following an early Thanksgiving morning accident involving an alleged drunken driver.
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TOMS RIVER, N.J. -- A New Jersey police officer headed home after working a special anti-drunken driving detail was killed early Thursday when a drunken driver crashed into his vehicle on the Garden State Parkway, authorities said.
Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford said 32-year-old Jason Marles, who had served on the Ocean Gate force for nine years, was northbound when his Jeep Cherokee was struck from behind around 3:20 a.m., near milepost 83.3 in Toms River.
The collision forced Marles' vehicle to spin and then strike a guardrail on the right berm and overturn. It finally came to rest on its roof against a tree and burst into flames.
Marles, the married father of two young children, was pronounced dead at the scene. He had finished his shift at 3 a.m. and was still in uniform as he drove home.
Authorities said the other driver, 31-year-old Erick P. Uzcategui of Manchester Township, was charged with vehicular homicide and drunken driving. He was being held Thursday night in the Ocean County Jail on $250,000 bail, and it was not known if he had retained an attorney. A telephone listing for Uzcategui could not be located.
Since the crash occurred on the parkway, the New Jersey State Police will lead the investigation, and authorities say more charges may be filed.
Sgt. Julian Castellanos, a state police spokesman, said Uzcategui's vehicle _ a 2010 BMW X7 _ careened off the center divider after the crash and came to a stop on the right berm north of Marles' vehicle.
Several occupants of the BMW then fled the scene into some nearby woods and were later captured by state troopers and Toms River police officers, Castellanos said. The identities of those arrested were not immediately released, and it was not known if they would face charges.
Speaking at an afternoon news conference, Ocean Gate Police Chief Reece Fisher and other town officials called Marles a "dedicated officer" who was especially skilled at mentoring area children and keeping them out of trouble.
"He will be sorely missed," Fisher said. "It will be a very difficult void to fill."
Marles' patrol car sat draped in flowers and black bunting at police headquarters on Thursday afternoon, as many residents came by to share their grief and express their sympathies to his colleagues on the eight-member Ocean Gate force.