In explosion of glass & metal, a star dies: 'Great kid' killed by thug driving stolen SUV

STEVEN M. FALK / Staff photographer
STEVEN M. FALK / Staff photographer
Posted: September 30, 2010

DANIEL GILETTA would have been a star.

He was among the smartest of the smart at his Bergen County, N.J., high school and earned a coveted distinguished-scholar honor from the state of New Jersey.

He planned to follow his father into engineering and was set to graduate next year from Villanova University.

But his promising path ended in an explosion of glass and metal early yesterday, when a thug fleeing police in a stolen Land Rover at more than 100 mph crashed into Giletta's car in Bryn Mawr.

Emergency responders worked desperately to free Giletta and his roommate, Frank Patrick DiChiara, from the mangled, overturned car. But paramedics declared Giletta, 21, of Wycoff, N.J., dead on the scene. DiChiara, 22, of Toms River, N.J., suffered severe internal injuries and was taken by helicopter to the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was in critical condition.

The punk who crashed into Giletta's 2003 Volkswagen Jetta fled on foot and remained at large last night.

Bernard Giletta's wife broke the news to him yesterday after he stepped off an airplane from a business trip to Germany.

"It's just terrible," Bernard Giletta said in a telephone interview, sobbing for the loss of his youngest son. "It's such a shock. I just don't know what to say."

The Land Rover belonged to a doctor and had been stolen sometime between 5:40 p.m. and 8:20 p.m. Tuesday from a parking lot in Radnor Township, said Haverford Township Police Chief Carmine D. Pettine.

Shortly after midnight, a Haverford cop on patrol spotted a Land Rover matching the stolen vehicle's description at Haverford and Eagle roads, Pettine said.

The officer pulled up behind it to check the license plate. But before he could, the Land Rover roared off and out of sight.

Moments later, the officer spotted the wreckage at Haverford and Rugby roads, about two miles north, Pettine said.

"It was a very violent crash," Pettine said. "The engine actually came out of the car."

The Land Rover continued another 400 to 500 yards after impact, then the driver got out and ran off. Investigators believe that the Land Rover rear-ended the Jetta.

Police are checking if security cameras at either the parking lot or the crash scene, or footage from the police cruiser, caught images of the killer. They're also combing the car for fingerprints and other identifying evidence.

Villanova held a prayer vigil last night for Giletta, a senior majoring in electrical engineering, and DiChiara, a junior majoring in sociology. Later, grieving students met with counselors and ministry staff.

"We extend our deepest sympathy to Daniel's family and friends on their heartfelt loss," said the Rev. John Stack, vice president of student life. "We ask that you keep these students and their families in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time."

As a teenager, Giletta was a gifted pitcher in a community baseball league, his father said yesterday. He graduated in 2007 from Bergen Catholic High, in Oradell, N.J., where he was a member of the National Honor Society and was named an Edward J. Bloustein Distinguished Scholar in 2006. That's the highest academic honor given by New Jersey to high-schoolers.

He also belonged to several service clubs at school, helping poor, sick and elderly community residents, Bergen Catholic principal Timothy J. McElhinney said.

"He was just a great kid, really studious and inquisitive," McElhinney said. "He took a real aggressive course of study and really challenged himself here. You don't want this to happen to anybody, but why does it have to happen to the real nice kids?"

Police ask tipsters to call Detective Dan Wallower at 610-853- 1298, ext. 232.

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