Jose A. Asencio of Newark was sentenced to three years in a New Jersey prison for leaving the scene of the hit-and-run that claimed the life of Verona sign maker Matthew BeneduceMcGrath last June.
BeneduceMcGrath was struck and killed at approximately 9:30 p.m. on June 24, 2016, while he was crossing Bloomfield Avenue mid-block by Hillcrest Terrace. His business, Benegrathic Sign Design, was located at 269 Bloomfield Avenue. Surveillance video identified a light-colored Ford van as the vehicle that struck BeneduceMcGrath and Asencio was arrested and charged on July 13, 2016. He has been in the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark since that time.
The sentence established through the plea bargain was three years but at the hearing today, Asencio’s lawyer, Jonathan A. Kessous of New Brunswick-based Garces, Grabler & Lebrocq, urged the judge to use her discretion in the sentencing. He cited letters attesting to Asencio’s good character written by Asencio’s pastor, fellow church members, employer and clients that had been submitted to the court. Asencio has worked for the same employer for the last 15 years, a Kearney-based remodeler. “His job and his church was his life,” Kessous said.
The lawyer conceded that Asencio’s status as an undocumented immigrant affected his decision to not report the accident. But he said that Asencio did immediately return to the scene to make sure that BeneduceMcGrath was getting aid. (Asencio, in the blue shirt, can be seen in the center of the photo below that was released by the Verona Police Department when it was looking for witnesses to the accident.)
Judge Siobhan A. Teare said that she had read all the letters and noted that the hit-and-run was a first offense and first conviction, but she did not alter the sentence. Asencio will be credited for the 227 days that he has been in prison and could be eligible for parole in two months. But Kessou noted that it was highly likely that Asencio would put in line for deportation to his native Guatemala and suggested that he might seek a voluntary deportation. “He’s giving his life in exchange for a life that was taken,” Kessous said.