Driver charged with vehicular homicide in Hawthorne farmer's market crash

Sarah Wallace reports from Hawthorne, where the victim was remembered.
The driver of a pick-up truck that smashed through a barricade at a farmer's market and struck several people in New Jersey was charged with death by vehicular homicide Monday.

The horrifying scene played out around 2:20 p.m. Sunday, as the weekly market in Hawthorne was closing up for the night. Donna Wine, 58, died from her injuries, while two others were treated for non-life threatening injuries at St. Joseph's Trauma Center.

Officials from the prosecutor's office announced that the driver, 48-year-old James Woetzel, would be charged with homicide and leaving the scene of an accident which resulted in death in connection with the incident, which included the truck driving for a half mile with Wine pinned underneath.

Police say Woetzel drove through a police barricade and struck the three victims, then went up Grand Avenue and made two left turns before finally coming to a stop.

Witnesses reported people diving out of harm's way, while others made a beeline towards the truck to try to get the driver to stop.

Longtime vendors and customers were stunned by the horror.

"The truck came speeding down the road and wiped out the girl," witness Elenor van der Werf said. "She got dragged under the truck, screaming away."

"There was a person under the car, screaming for them to stop," witness Blythe Roth added. "And they didn't stop."

A vendor, Bailey Hildebrant, of Hackettstown, was injured and taken to a hospital by ambulance. She told The Record that she was hit on the right leg by a table that was knocked over by the truck.

Friends followed her to the hospital and brought her back to the market after doctors put a cast on her right foot, she said.

"I really don't know why he didn't stop," the badly shaken Hildebrant said. "I got knocked over and I saw my tomatoes flying in the air."

Woetzel was evaluated at the hospital because he appeared extremely upset after the accident. His bail has been set at $200,000.

The state Motor Vehicle Commission says Woetzel has a valid New Jersey driver's license with no active points, but has 20 previous violations and 5 previous suspensions, one of them for DUI.

The violations, dating back to 1984, include speeding, careless driving, failure to wear a seatbelt, and unsafe operation of a motor vehicle.

"It really was horrible. For the community, it's going to be really bad," said eyewitness Robert Metaxatos. He saw the second crime scene unfold outside his restaurant on Lafayette Avenue, where police pulled over the pickup truck and arrested Woetzel.

Witnesses say they never saw the driver hit the brakes as he dragged Wine down the street. "This stripe that you see in the road, this is it, right up to the body and that's where it ended," said Metaxatos. "It's horrible, every day I'm going to come here and see this."

Ironically, both Wine and Woetzel live just steps from each other in nearby apartment complexes, but her friends say she did not know him.

The accident happened just as the market was winding down for the day, and that fact was on the mayor's mind.

"If it happened earlier with 100 people there, it could have been worse. But I don't want to minimize what happened, it is a true tragedy," said Hawthorne Mayor Richard Goldberg.

The investigation into the circumstances of the incident, being conducted by the Hawthorne Police Department and the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office Major Crimes Unit, is active and ongoing.

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