Justice system failed: Family of Woodbridge woman killed in hit-and-run

WOODBRIDGE, NJ — The man who hit and killed a Woodbridge woman near Wegmans last August was sentenced to five years in prison for the crime — and the woman’s family says it’s not justice.

The man is Antonio Rivera, 23, who struck and killed Ford resident Kristen Bruschi, 45, in the early evening of August 31, 2023.


Last Monday, Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Craig Corson sentenced Rivera to five years in state prison. Additionally, Rivera may be released from prison early for good behavior because the crime of leaving the scene of a fatal accident is not subject to New Jersey’s No Early Release Act.

Bruschi’s sister, Carolina Bruschi, called it a “slap on the wrist.”

Bruschi said the family was initially told Rivera would serve an eight-year sentence, but Judge Corson reduced it to five after character witnesses, including his employer, Scott’s Towing in Woodbridge, spoke before the court on behalf of Rivera.

“We are frankly disgusted by this sentence,” Bruschi said Tuesday. “We are devastated by the court’s decisions. We believe our justice system has failed us.”

According to New Jersey prison records, Rivera is not a U.S. citizen. He was living in Woodbridge at the time of the fatal accident; he is currently being held in the Middlesex County Jail and awaiting transfer to the state prison system to begin his five-year sentence.

In March of this year, Rivera pleaded guilty to second-degree knowingly leaving the scene of an automobile accident resulting in death and fourth-degree making a false report to police.

Corson sentenced him to five years in prison for the most serious charge (leaving the scene of a fatal accident) and one year to be served concurrently (at the same time) for creating a false report to Woodbridge police about the incident.

Hours after hitting Bruschi that evening, Rivera called Woodbridge police to report that his black Mustang had been stolen. Unbeknownst to him, Woodbridge police, led by Sergeant Joseph Angelo, had surveillance footage of the Mustang striking Bruschi and had just issued a BOLO (be on the lookout) to all surrounding towns.

Rivera was asked to go to Woodbridge police headquarters that evening, where he admitted that his car had not in fact been stolen. He told police he knew he had hit a woman, but he “panicked and left the scene,” according to the criminal complaint.

Rivera was arrested by WPD the next day, September 1, at his home on Fox Hill Run.

Middlesex County prosecutor does not plan to appeal 5-year sentence

Middlesex County Prosecutor Yolanda Ciccone does not plan to appeal the sentence, a spokeswoman for her office said Tuesday.

“We cannot speak for Judge Corson; however, we have no other response than to recognize the seriousness of the offense and the impact it had on the family,” the spokesperson said. of the prosecutor. “We are bound by and respect the decision of the trial court and see no legal basis to appeal this decision.”

As the case progressed through the New Jersey court system, Bruschi said she and her family, especially their grieving mother, were consulted multiple times by Prosecutor Ciccone.

The family was initially told he would serve an eight-year sentence, which they accepted.

But she said Rivera’s own testimony before the judge, along with comments from his mother and Scott’s Towing, were successful in convincing Corson to reduce the sentence.

“We were very involved in this,” the sister said. “We were able to talk at sentencing about the impact the crime had on our family. We agreed to an eight-year plea deal, which he signed. But he was able to mitigate that before a judge to reduce the time.”

“The accused has the right to have people speak on his behalf during sentencing, as does the state,” the prosecutor’s spokeswoman said. “The original recommendation was eight years. The trial judge must qualitatively assess the aggravating and mitigating factors to determine whether it is appropriate to deviate from the recommended sentence and opt for a lower sentence. Here, the Judge sentenced the defendant to the lower end of the sentencing range – five years in prison.

At the time of her death, Kristen was living in Fords with her mother, to whom she was very close, and was a single mother to her 15-year-old daughter.

“(He) took a teenager’s mother away when she needed her most. We understand that accidents happen and people panic, but this was not a feeling of panic. His actions to flee, falsify police reports, and then bury his crimes shows his true character,” the sister said.

What happened on the evening of August 31, 2023:

On August 31, 2023, a Thursday at 5:39 p.m., Woodbridge Police responded to multiple 911 calls regarding a pedestrian hit-and-run in front of the Wegmans, one of the busiest areas in the city. It was other people passing by in their car who called 911.

Police found Bruschi lying in the middle of the intersection, unconscious. She was bleeding from her head and other places on her body.

According to her sister, Kristen went out shopping that evening. Because it was a beautiful summer night, she decided to bike to Wegmans.

She was killed while returning home: she got off her bike and was struck while crossing busy Woodbridge Center Drive, with a grocery bag hanging from the handlebars.

“There is no pedestrian crossing there; she got off her bike to cross,” says her sister. “He hit her and left.”

Police said Rivera immediately fled the scene. The posted speed limit is 25 miles per hour; we don’t know how fast he was going.

Bruschi said police and paramedics performed CPR on her sister and were able to recover a slight heartbeat, but it was brief. She was rushed to Raritan Bay Medical Center, but was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Woodbridge police canvassed the area and obtained surveillance footage showing Bruschi being hit by the Mustang. WPD issued an alert to nearby towns to search for the car, and police in another town found the car shortly after the crash, with severe front-end damage.

“This accident and the person who hit him took a big part of our lives away, and (he) showed little remorse,” his sister said. “Even though time will never bring Kristen back, we are a little relieved to have a sense of closure. We will continue to share her story and keep her memory alive forever. Kristen was loved by all who met her and had a huge heart. She will be missed forever.

Here is Kristen Bruschi’s obituary.

Initial Patch report on Kristen Bruschi’s death: Woodbridge single mother hit and killed by car outside Wegmans