The following story is reported by journalist and Lower East Side resident Jennifer Strom:
To the many strangers passing through the intersection of Delancey and Essex streets on the morning of April 12, Hector Luis Vera was a spectacle of police lights and crowds, a rush-hour clog on a main commuter artery into the city, a body mostly covered by a sheet, drawing sidewalk gawkers.
But he was also a doting son and brother and a great cook. Way back in February, he made plans to take his mom, Carmen Perez, to Cirque du Soleil and out to dinner uptown this weekend, to celebrate Mother’s Day. Every spring, he rode all the Coney Island rides with his four nieces and nephews, whom he also babysat often. He worked in a Lower East Side restaurant and loved to cook for his family, stirring up batches of chicken with rice and baking a mean cheesecake.
“He was my prince,” Perez says, wiping tears with her shirttail in the East Village apartment she shared with Vera and his beloved dog, Pluto. “I just don’t know what happened to my son.”
The 40-year-old Vera, who was born in Puerto Rico and moved to New York City 14 years ago, was killed walking home from his girlfriend’s house at one of lower Manhattan’s most dangerous intersections. That spot was the scene of 119 cyclist and pedestrian strikes by vehicles between 1998 and 2008—more, by far, than any other intersection in Community District 3, according to Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group.
His body lay on the asphalt in the westbound lanes of Delancey for more than three hours, as the work day dawned and commuter traffic coming over the Williamsburg Bridge slowed to a rubber-necker crawl. Drivers, cyclists and young children walking to school encountered a gruesome scene. Police later told his sister, Barbara Perez, that the delays at the scene were caused by the medical examiner’s transport van being tied up elsewhere.
The driver of the car that struck him, Dominick Abruscato of Maspeth, told officers that Vera had stepped into the path of his Mazda sedan against the walk signal, according to the police report of the accident. Abruscato, the owner of the Royal Barber Shop in the Fulton Street subway station, was on his way to work that morning. He was not charged with any wrongdoing.
Vera’s family has many lingering questions about the circumstances surrounding the accident, but right now the biggest dilemma his mother and sister face is how to pay for a proper funeral. Nearly a month after his death, Vera’s body remains in a hospital morgue, awaiting a service and burial they can’t afford. The bill is nearly $4,000 but they have only $1,600—money his mother had put away for her own funeral someday, to spare her children that expense.
“It’s very important for me and my mom to bury him right,” says Barbara Perez, 36. “He always lived with one of us, and he helped me raise my kids. He made the best cheesecake in the world, and I never got the recipe,” she says.
“And he was a better son than I am a daughter,” she adds, causing her mother to crack a smile through her tears.
Most of all, Perez wants her brother to be remembered as more than a corpse on a city street. “I just want people to know that he had a family,” she says, “and that he was loved.”
Hector Vera’s family welcomes donations for his funeral. Checks may be made out to the Ortiz Funeral Home/Hector L. Vera Fund, and sent to 22 1st Ave., New York, NY 10009.