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20101126 - The Story of Officer Marles' Candlelight Vigil
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The Story of Officer Marles' Candlelight Vigil


November 26th, 2010

by Erik Weber


OCEAN GATE - The news, when it came out, didn't make sense.


Early Thursday morning, Thanksgiving, Jason Marles, 32 years old and an Ocean Gate police officer for the past nine of those years, was killed in a grisly crash caused by a drunken driver on the northbound Garden State Parkway in Toms River. He had just finished an extended shift on a special holiday duty. His assignment: to monitor these borough streets for drunken drivers.


In the following 48 hours, family members flew in from across the country, Ocean Gate Police Chief Reece Fisher called a press conference, the police vehicle he last utilized for patrol was placed in front of borough hall to collect the accumulating flowers, candles, memory cards and photographs, phone calls were made, Facebook messages sent, and a candlelight vigil organized in his honor.


Caught in the middle of it were his children: a daughter, Taryn, 5, and a son, Landon, 4, their position as the cherished center of their father's universe now perversely replaced by a position at the heart of all the pain and anguish that will echo through their lives in the ensuing decades.


All this because one local man, Manchester Township resident Erick P. Uzcategui, got behind the wheel of a 2010 BMW X7 after too much pre-holiday partying, turned the key and signed the death sentence for this beloved father of two.


Tonight, as hundreds of family, friends, officials, borough and area residents and emergency personnel swarmed the front of Ocean Gate Borough Hall to honor and remember his too-short life, the man that caused it all sat somewhere in the county jail less than four miles to the north, still alive, still breathing, still very much here even as his victim is not. Back in Ocean Gate, midway through the vigil, as stricken family members shuffled disbelievingly to the podium and a thousand points of candlelight illuminated an empty sky, this terrible reality was unleashed raw by a daughter's angry, confused and devastated wails for a father that would never come home.


"This is for your daddy," choked the crying child's grandmother, Patricia Engrassia, gripping her close while facing her to the crowd. All else was lost among the responding sobs and wails that filled Ocean Gate Avenue.


For over an hour after, the crowd hugged the hall and the vehicle now adorned by hundreds of mementos, long after the last speaker approached the microphone, as though wanting to hold on to each other and the essence of Officer Marles for as long as possible. Soon, a lone bagpiper started into Amazing Grace and a procession of police cruisers made their way silently east, blue lights flashing, as the patrolman's mother and daughter waded through the clutching throngs to sit within his vehicle, caressing and embracing its interior as if holding him one last time.