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NJ High School Grad Stabbed, Killed in Fight Sparked by Mistaken Identity: DA

It was sparked by an "exchange that went terribly wrong," prosecutors say

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A 20-year-old New Jersey man is charged in the murder of a high school graduate in an altercation sparked by an apparent case of mistaken identity, authorities said. Brian Thompson has more. (Published Monday, Jul 15, 2013)

    A 20-year-old New Jersey man is charged in the murder of a recent high school graduate in an altercation sparked by an apparent case of mistaken identity, authorities said.

    The dispute began when Jonathan Lafontaine of Totowa, with three friends inside a Jeep, pulled up alongside a Mercedes on Union Boulevard in Little Falls, prosecutors said. The Mercedes was filled with a group of five young people, including 18-year-old Brian Topoleski, returning from a night out at a local restaurant. 

    The people inside the Jeep thought they recognized someone in the Mercedes and began to yell out to get their attention, according to prosecutors. They quickly realized they were mistaken but the exchange set off an altercation between the two groups. 

    The Jeep took off toward a house in Little Falls, and the Mercedes followed. Once the Jeep arrived at its destination on Jacobus Avenue -- the home of a friend of Lafontaine -- the groups again exchanged words, prosecutors said. Lafontaine walked out of the Jeep and went inside his friend's home.

    Meanwhile, the group inside the Mercedes, including Topoleski, walked out of the car and went toward the Jeep where the rest of the occupants -- a boy and a girl -- were still inside, according to prosecutors. 

    At that point, Lafontaine reemerged from his friend's home with two steak knives and approached Topoleski and his friends, who by that point were preparing to leave. That's when Lafontaine punched Topoleski and stabbed him in the chest, prosecutors said. 

    Lafontaine retreated into his friend's home after the stabbing, then hid in the backyard, authorities said. SWAT teams were called to the house, and eventually took him into custody without incident.

    Topoleski was declared dead at St. Joseph's Regional Trauma Center.

    Lafontaine is charged with first-degree murder and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon. Attorney information wasn't immediately available.

    Prosecutors said the friend inside the Jacobus Avenue home had tried to stop Lafontaine as he left the home with the knives, and that the friend sustained cuts to his hand in his attempt. 

    Topoleski had just graduated Cedar Grove High School and was set to attend Montclair State University this fall, his family said.

    "My brother was just a nice, kind, caring kid," said Topoleski's brother Robert. "Anytime my sister had to go to swim practice, he would be the first to take her. My dad needed help at work, he would be there. Anytime his friends needed anything, he would drop anything for them."

    -- Brian Thompson contributed to this report.