BORDENTOWN, NJ — After drinking heavily with friends Tuesday night, Marco Birkhimer, an up-and-coming handyman, left the house and walked onto a busy highway.

Then, on a dare — and in a scene resembling one in the new movie, The Program — Birkhimer sat down on the white dividing line. Palms flat, he leaned back on his arms and stared into the headlights speeding north on Route 206 at the Carmen Avenue jughandle in Bordentown.

Soon, as friends and passers-by watched, Birkhimer, 24, of Bordentown City was dead.

He sat down
on the white dividing line, leaned back on his arms and stared into the headlights.

Township police said yesterday that Birkhimer was killed instantly when struck by a vehicle whose driver fled the scene about 10 p.m. A second vehicle also hit Birkhimer, and his body ended up 40 to 50 feet away.

Yesterday, police said they were aware of the similarities between Birkhimer's act and those of five college football players in The Program, which portrays a college football team's battle for a championship. The movie is playing in area tbeaters, and the scene on the road has been used in television previews. In the movie, the players had been to a bar, but were not drunk.

Police said neither Birkhimer's friends nor other witnesses made a connection between Birkhimer and the movie.

Police dismissed the stunt's similarity to scenes in The Program, a college movie playing in area theaters. "We wouldn't make that link," Police Chief George Moyer said. "We have no concern with that movie. We deal in facts."

Movie or no movie, "It's pretty stupid, if you asked me," said Police Sgt. Danny S. Kiernan, who is leading the investigation. He declined to release the names of witnesses, a couple of whom had swerved their vehicles to avoid hitting Birkhimer, he said.

Kiernan said he cared less about whether Birkhimer lost his life trying to imitate art than he did about finding the driver of the first vehicle, which stopped on the highway shoulder 500 feet past the point of impact and then drove off.

"It's a red vehicle, whatever it was," Kiernan said. The driver will not face criminal charges — Birkhimer was "sitting in a roadway," Kiernan pointed out — if he comes forward promptly.

"He more than likely knows that he killed somebody," the sergeant said. "I've been in this business 14 years. You hit somebody and you don't stop — that's crazy."

If police are forced to track down the driver, the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office could charge him with death by auto, or manslaughter.

The driver of the second car, Angela L. Russo, 18, stayed at the scene until police arrived and will not face charges, Kiernan said.

"I don't think there's anything unlawful about daring somebody to do something and then they get killed."

Russo could not be reached for comment yesterday, but Kiernan said she had just left her job at the nearby Bradlees department store and was heading to her home in Trenton when her car struck Birkhimer.

As for the man who made the dare, Kiernan said he, faces no charges either.

"I don't think there's anything unlawful about daring somebody to do something and then they get killed," Kiernan said.

Meanwhile, Birkhimer's family, friends and neighbors living and working in downtown Bordentown City were struggling yesterday to understand the senseless death.

A man and woman who answered the door at Birkhimer's home said his family had no comment.