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Correction Officer Accused In North Bergen Hit-And-Run That Killed Local GOP Chairman, Assembly Candidate

NORTH BERGEN, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A correctional officer was arrested and charged Monday in a hit-and-run which killed the Jersey City Republican Party chairman and a woman who planned to seek the GOP nomination for an Assembly seat.

As CBS2's Meg Baker reported, it happened around 8 p.m. Sunday at the intersection of Paterson Plank Road and Kennedy Boulevard.

Late Monday, investigators began clearing the scene of the fatal hit-and-run outside the Coach House Diner, at the intersection of Paterson Plank Road and Kennedy Boulevard in North Bergen.

A trail of debris was left behind at the site of the crash, which happened around 8 p.m. Sunday.

As CBS2's Meg Baker reported, GOP chairman Russell Maffei, 57, and Marie Tauro, 80, were hit crossing while crossing the street. Authorities said the driver left the scene.

Marie Tauro, Russell Maffei
Marie Tauro and Jersey City GOP chairman Russell Maffei were hit crossing a street outside a diner in North Bergen, New Jersey on Sunday, April 2, 2017. (Credit: Jose Arango)

"They were crossing Paterson Plank, coming in to eat with us here. I heard an SUV or something that hit them and just kept going. That is exactly what we know then like a couple of minutes after, saw a lot of cops and EMTs," diner manager Matt Ibrahim said. "It's horrible. They can't just be a human being."

The two were taken to the hospital, but did not survive.

Maffei and Tauro were two longtime fixtures on the local political scene. Those who knew them said they will never be forgotten.

"They are people who care for Jersey City; care for the people," said Hudson County Republican Party Chairman Jose Arango.

Authorities said it was a Hudson County corrections officer – Michael Hansen, 38 – who fled the scene after he slammed into Maffei and Toro as they crossed the street following a Republican strategy meeting.

"Russell Matteei was the state committeeman for Hudson County," Arango said.

Arango said Maffei was on Gov. Chris Christie's transition team, and was an early supporter for President Donald Trump. Maffei was respected on both sides of the aisle, Arango said.

As CBS2's Tony Aiello reported, Christie tweeted his condolences Monday – saying he was "deeply saddened" and calling Maffei a friend.

"If you were involved in Jersey City politics, you knew Russell – there was no question about it," said Democratic Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop. "And you know, he was he was a fierce competitor."

Tauro, a commissioner at the City Municipal Authority, worked on Mayor Fulop's first campaign for City Council in 2005. He considered her a close friend.

"She started a senior program on the west side, which grew from nothing to daily 100 seniors," Fulop said.

Residents who live near the diner said the intersection of Kennedy Boulevard, Paterson Plank Road, and 8th Street is infamous for accidents and speeding drivers.

"I wasn't surprised. It was just a matter of time," she said. "Cars speed up and down the boulevard, Paterson Plank Road. It's a shame."

Police said the sport-utility vehicle that struck and killed the victims fled the scene. It was traced to a home on 54th Street near Tonnelle Avenue where Hansen lives in a basement apartment.

Zackary Kasee said a few hours after Hansen arrived home, a SWAT team arrived looking for him.

"I was outside smoking a cigarette. I seen him walk in. He was drunk, cussing," Kasee said. "The officer asked me and my family to evacuate the house because they didn't know what was going to happen."

Police said Hansen resisted as he was taken into custody after several hours.

Documents from the Civil Service Commission show Hansen has eight years as a corrections officer. He claims he suffers from debilitating cluster migraine headaches, and recently appealed a 60-day suspension for missing too much work.

Hansen was arrested early Monday morning and was charged with leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in death, as well as resisting arrest. He was set to be arraigned Tuesday morning.

If convicted, the corrections officer is facing up to ten years in prison.

(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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