GOP leader of N.J. Assembly dies at Statehouse

In a 2004 file photo New Jersey Assemblyman Alex DeCroce is seen during a news conference at the Statehouse in Trenton.

TRENTON, N.J. - The Republican leader of the New Jersey Assembly collapsed and died at the Statehouse late Monday, the final day of the legislative session.

A New Jersey Republican Party official tells CBS News that Alex DeCroce, 75, collapsed around 11 p.m., soon after the Legislature was adjourned for the night. State police confirm that DeCroce collapsed in a men's room in the Statehouse.

He was pronounced dead at the scene.

As staffers and lawmakers headed out of the chamber, they stumbled across a commotion in one of the hallways which leads to various offices and bathrooms in the Statehouse. This is where people came across DeCroce, who was unresponsive at the time, the official tells CBS.

Assemblyman Herb Conaway, a physician, administered to DeCroce at the scene. Gov. Chris Christie, a fellow Republican and personal friend of DeCroce for 20 years, confirmed the death 2 ½ hours later.

"Tonight I lost a dear friend, colleague and mentor," Christie said in a statement. "He helped to give me my start in elective politics in Morris County in 1993. He was one of the most kind, considerate and trustworthy people I have ever had the pleasure to know. This is an enormous loss for our state and for me personally."

DeCroce's death shocked lawmakers and legislative staff who had been working with him all evening as the Legislature wrapped up its session with a flurry of last-minute bills.

An obviously emotional Christie returned to the capital around midnight, wearing a sport jacket over a T-shirt and loafers but no socks.

The governor was seen breaking down while embracing Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and other legislative leaders.

DeCroce's body, covered and placed on a stretcher, was removed from the ground floor of the Statehouse about 12:40 a.m.

The lawmaker, from Parsippany-Troy Hills, served in the Assembly since 1989 and became the GOP's leader there in 2003.

His district includes parts of Morris and Passaic counties.

The Legislature hastily scaled back plans for Tuesday's reorganization and Christie postponed his state-of-the-state speech, opting instead to say a few words about DeCroce on the floor of the Assembly Tuesday afternoon.