On the side of the Garden State Parkway this dreary Thanksgiving, dumbfounded friends of officer Jason Marles struggled to comprehend.
"It's hard to believe he's gone, really is," said Joe Clappsy.
Marles' patrol car sat draped in bunting and covered in flowers. The eight member Ocean Gate police department is suddenly mourning one of its own.
"We lost a very good officer in the ocean gate police department and he will be missed. It will be a very difficult void to fill," said the Police Chief.
At a late afternoon briefing, police announced the grim details of their tragedy.
Early this morning, the 32-year-old veteran cop and father of two young kids had just finished a special detail, looking for drunk drivers.
And it was a suspected drunk driver who rear ended Marles, as he headed up the parkway home to his family.
After the impact Officer Marles lost control and went off the road. His jeep hit this guardrail, flipped, and wound up in flames. And at least some of the occupants of the car that hit him, ran into the woods.
The force of the impact jolted Emilio Papiomitis out of bed. He heard the suspects, among them the driver, running from the scene, past his house. That's when the officer's jeep exploded.
"It started off as a small fire and like 2 to 3 seconds later it blew up like a mushroom cloud," said Papiomitis.
Toms River police quickly tracked down the driver, 31-year-old Erick Uzcategui.
He's spending his thanksgiving in jail as a tight knit police department contemplates life without their friend.