Bergen County Woman Pleads Guilty to First Degree Death By Auto in Crash Which Killed North Bergen Man 2 Years Ago

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Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez has released the following information:

A Bergen County woman pleaded guilty yesterday to first-degree Death by Auto – DWI while within 1,000 feet of school property in the September 29, 2019 crash in which she killed a 66-year-old man on Kennedy Boulevard and 76th Street in North Bergen.

Denisse Ortega, age 36, of New Milford, entered the plea before the Honorable Vincent J. Militello, J.S.C., during a hearing Thursday at which the family members of the victim, Mario Santamaria Sr., were present. Ortega also pled guilty to motor vehicle summonses for Driving While Intoxicated in violation of 39:4-50 and Speeding in violation of 39:4-98. The State is recommending a sentence of ten years in New Jersey state prison subject to the No Early Release Act along with a consecutive 10 year driver’s license suspension pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:11- 5b(4) and forfeiture of her 2018 Nissan Pathfinder pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5e.

Pursuant to the plea agreement, the remaining charges of the indictment against Ortega would be dismissed at sentencing. Ortega had been charged with Aggravated Manslaughter in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4a(1), a crime of the first degree and Death by Auto – DWI while within 1,000 feet of school property in violation of NJSA 2C:11-5a and 2C:11-5b(3)(a), a crime of the first degree.

On Sunday, September 29, 2019, shortly after 4:00 a.m., a fatal motor vehicle collision occurred at the intersection of John F. Kennedy Boulevard and 76th Street in North Bergen. The collision was observed by a nearby North Bergen Police Officer who was on patrol in the area. After reporting the collision, the police officer responded to the scene and immediately began rendering aid to the two drivers who were both trapped in their vehicles. There were no other occupants of either vehicle. Additional North Bergen police officers, North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue, and Emergency Medical Services responded to the scene to render aid and assist with traffic control. The investigation by the Hudson County Regional Collision Investigation Unit and the North Bergen Police Department revealed that a 2018 Nissan Pathfinder driven by Ortega was traveling north on John F. Kennedy Boulevard at approximately 83 miles per hour in a 25 miles per hour zone when she collided with a 2012 Nissan Altima driven westbound on 76th Street by Mario Santamaria Sr.

The investigation also determined that Ortega failed to obey multiple traffic signals while traveling on John F. Kennedy Boulevard including the traffic signal controlling the intersection of Kennedy Boulevard and 76th Street. An analysis of blood samples also determined she was driving while intoxicated. The collision occurred within 1,000 feet of North Bergen High School. Santamaria, age 66, of North Bergen, was transported by EMS to Jersey City Medical Center. He was pronounced dead at approximately 5:15 a.m. Ortega was treated at the scene before being transported by EMS to Palisades Medical Center. Ortega was subsequently transferred to Hackensack University Medical Center where she was treated for non-life threatening injuries.

A North Bergen police officer who responded to the scene was injured while rendering aid to one of the drivers and was transported by EMS to Palisades Medical Center for treatment.

Sentencing in this case has been scheduled for January 6, 2022 before the Honorable Vincent J. Militello, J.S.C. The State is represented in this case by Assistant Prosecutor Andrew Baginski of the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office Homicide Unit.