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10 years after fatal hit-and-run in North Bergen, family of victim still seeks closure

Omar Monroig, a up-and-coming bodybuilder, was known as a 'gentle giant' by family and friends

Omar was 42 years old when he died. Photos courtesy of the family.

More than a decade after a hit-and-run in North Bergen killed beloved bodybuilder Omar Monroig, his family is still searching for closure.

On March 23, 2012, Omar was struck by an early 2000s Toyota Camry as he crossed 51st Street and Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen on his way to grab drinks at a local Cuban restaurant with a friend. While severely injured, at times the 42-year-old seemed like he was going to pull through and his family hoped he would.

In an interview with the Hudson Reporter, Omar’s brother Jorge said he survived longer than most people would have. Following the accident, Omar had broken bones in his neck, two broken legs, a broken shoulder, and internal bleeding.

“Omar was a bull who wanted to live,” Jorge said. “It took him eight days to succumb to the injuries. Most people don’t survive that long.”

However, Omar ultimately died due to his injuries days later on April 1, 2012. His killer, the driver of the car that night, remains on the loose.

Omar Monroig displays his chiseled-from-granite body.

10-year cold case

While there was traffic camera footage of the fatal hit-and-run, it was low quality due to how dark it was in the area; only the vehicle could be identified, not the license plate. The family was able to attain the video through a private investigator who sent it to be enhanced in Alabama. However, the facility returned it free of charge since there was nothing that could be done to stop the pixels from breaking down further. This means it was unable to be enhanced, and that Jorge and the family were back at square one.

In March of 2017, five years after the fatal hit-and-run that took the life of Omar, the statute of limitations for the vehicular manslaughter charges in the case expired, the North Bergen Police Department confirmed to the Hudson Reporter at the time. However, Jorge said he wanted to learn more about the statute of limitations for the case and reached out to an attorney for more information.

Regardless, Jorge and the family has been urging the driver of the vehicle or anyone with any information on who that may be to come forward. He said the case remains unsolved, although the family remains hopeful that can one day get closure.

“We’re hoping that someday, someone comes forward because we want those answers that we never got night,” Jorge said. “When Omar passed away, we didn’t know why this person didn’t stop. It left a lot of unanswered questions. We want someday to find out who this person is. And we also want to shed some light on Omar’s story.”

An old photo of Nick, Omar, and Marybell.

‘A heart bigger than his biceps’

According to Jorge, Omar was very near and dear to those around him.

“Omar was my best friend,” Jorge said. “I didn’t know it at the time because we were brothers, but he really was my best friend. He’s an amazing person. I think of him it more all the time. I miss Omar. He used to love celebrating birthdays.”

It was just days after Omar’s 42nd birthday, on March 21, 2012, that he would lose his life. He was actually on his way to celebrate with a friend on March 23 when he was struck by the hit-and-run driver.

And it wasn’t just his birthday that he enjoyed. Omar was fond of celebrating others’ birthdays, such as Jorge, in similar fashion.

“Omar loved celebrating birthdays, that was a highlight and something we always enjoyed,” Jorge said. “I loved having dinner with him, breaking bread. Birthdays with him wouldn’t be just one day, it would be a week almost.”

Jorge and the rest of Omar’s family have certainly not forgotten about him.

“We think of him often,” Jorge said. “We have many portraits of Omar.”

According to Jorge, many people have sent positive information and messages to the family since everything happened. Omar left behind his wife Marybell and their son, Nick. According to Jorge, Nick stills lives and works in Butler where they lived.

“Nick is a chip off the old block,” Jorge said. “He’s also working as an volunteer firefighter and an EMT.”

Omar could have gone pro if he won the bodybuilding competition just weeks ahead of his untimely death.

Up-and-coming bodybuilder

In addition to his love for his family and general kind nature, Omar was also known as an up-and-coming semi-professional bodybuilder.

Jorge said what had started as a passion and grew exponentially from there. Prior to that, he was a successful contractor for a cell site company building towers.

“It started out as a hobby,” Jorge said. “He was just good at it.”

Omar was addicted to working out, exercising six times a week, twice a day. Jorge said he did cardio in the day and weightlifting at night.

What may have started as hobby, soon put Omar on a path to going pro. The Bloomfield Plaza Fitness gym he frequented sponsored him as a bodybuilder.

Omar, age 42, was just weeks away from the Garden State Classic Championships, which was later held in his honor. The 5’11, 256 pound strongman was a professional body builder with a number of titles and trophies in tow from various national bodybuilding competition, though Omar was not one to brag.

“Omar was one of the favorites,” Jorge said. “Muscle Maker Grill wanted Omar to come by and take pictures. He was one of the favorites for that event.”

According to Jorge, Omar’s soft nature and large stature made him something of “gentle giant.” This made it all the more bitter that the driver who hit him kept going, according to Jorge.

“I want this person to be ashamed of what he did that night, because it left a lot of unanswered questions,” Jorge said. “We want to know who this person was that was driving. We want to know why this person didn’t stop that night. We were stunned that he didn’t stop that night to help Omar. To drive off like that just made the wound deeper. “

A police sketch of the driver believed to have killed Omar Monroig. Image courtesy of the North Bergen Police Department.

Still searching for the driver

There are still no leads in the cold case, more than a decade later. The North Bergen Police Department recently dedicated a social media remembering Omar on the 10 year anniversary of his death, also sharing a sketch of the alleged driver that night.

While the case was an impetus for the township to upgrade its cameras to better suit low lighting, Jorge is still seeking the driver come forward. He also wants knowledge of Omar’s case to be shared to hopefully prevent any similar tragedies in the future.

“I know the township of North Bergen improved their system, but the person should have stopped as well too,” Jorge said.

Jorge and his family are not giving up on finding who was behind this, no matter how much time has passed: “We still want to know who did this regardless of the time frame. We want to shed some light on what happened ten years ago. And if it could help change some things where they have better lighting or cameras, like in the township of North Bergen, or other places that have similar, that would be good.”

He continued: “We are disappointed what happened to Omar was never solved.”

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com. 

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