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Leonia Chief: Fort Lee Driver In Wheelchair Hit-Run Drives Up To Detectives

Thomas Malatesta
Thomas Malatesta Photo Credit: COURTESY: Leonia PD

LEONIA, N.J. -- The driver being sought in a hit-and-run crash that seriously injured a 78-year-old man in a wheelchair in Leonia pulled right up to detectives early Tuesday afternoon, Police Chief Thomas Rowe told Daily Voice.

Rowe's investigators were reviewing surveillance video at a local business when the vehicle they were looking for pulled into a spot in the parking lot at 135 Fort Lee Road around 12:30 p.m., Rowe said.

The 2016 Buick Encore "was missing the skid plate, just like the vehicle we were looking for, and was dinged up in front" when Detectives Michael Jennings and Detective Sgt. Chris Jennings spotted it, he said.

Thomas J. Malatesta, 53, of Fort Lee, "admitted that he was the one responsible" for hitting the victim, who was knocked nearly 20 feet, a day earlier at the Leonia Avenue intersection of Leonia Avenue, the chief said.

Malatesta, who works at the Fort Lee Road building where the detectives were investigating, was charged with leaving the scene of a crash involving serious bodily injury and endangering an injured victim, he said.

He also received a trio of motor vehicle summonses, Rowe said.

Malatesta was released pending a court hearing. The vehicle was impounded.

The victim remained stable at Hackensack University Medical Center, with six broken ribs and a broken clavicle, among other injuries, the chief said.

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