HILLSIDE — Hundreds of relatives, friends, police officers and other members of the community gathered over the weekend to honor a police officer killed in an off-duty crash after less than a year on the force.

Hillside officer Giovanni Esposito, 30, killed in a collision with a tractor-trailer Oct. 15 on Route 1 in Linden, was remembered Saturday in a service at St. Catherine's Catholic Church.

Chief Vincent Ricciardi said Esposito was hired in November after graduating from the Essex Police Academy, where he graduated at the top of his class and served as class commander, Nj.com reported .

Although a family member encouraged him to join the fire department before he took the police exam, Esposito ultimately decided to stick with the police department, he said.

"He decided wanted to protect others from harm and keep our streets safe," Ricciardi said. "That heart of gold was obvious to the entire police department."

He also cited the officer's "enthusiasm, diligence and compassion" while on duty.

Those in attendance sang traditional songs such as "Precious Lord" and "Amazing Grace," and a priest reassured weeping mourners that "the soul of the just are in the hands of God, and he was the soul of the just."

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Information from: NJ.com, http://www.nj.com

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