Victim dragged under van identified

February 12, 2009 5:17:55 PM PST
The man who was hit by a car, trapped under a van and dragged for nearly 20 miles through the city was a hardworking immigrant who religiously sent money home to his wife and toddler in Ecuador. Guido Salvador Carabajo-Jara turned 26 the day before he was killed in the gruesome accident. He was crossing a busy street near his home in Queens when he was hit by an SUV, then impaled by a steel plate under a second vehicle, a van. His body wasn't discovered until the van driver arrived in Brooklyn about an hour later.

His sister, Rosa Carabajo, and his cousin, Felix Jara, returned to their Queens neighborhood Thursday from the hospital morgue, weeping and distressed.

"He was an excellent person, very easygoing, very happy," Jara said in Spanish. "I was in shock. We don't know how this could have happened. I didn't believe it until I saw his saw his face."

It took investigators about 17 hours to identify Carabajo-Jara, whose body was found largely intact but so horribly battered that his heels were shorn off.

No identification was found with him - only a business card, Western Union receipt and broken iPhone. The body was identified by a cousin, said Paul Browne, the New York Police Department's deputy commissioner for public information.

Carabajo-Jara was supposed to meet Jara at 8 a.m. Wednesday to go to work laying tile in Brooklyn. When he didn't show, his family spent the day looking for him. It wasn't until about 11 p.m. Wednesday that police notified them that he had been killed.

An autopsy found that Carabajo-Jara died from multiple blunt-impact injuries, medical examiners' spokeswoman Ellen Borakove said Thursday. It's unclear whether it is possible to determine exactly when he died.

Police said the episode was accidental and they have no plans to charge the drivers. Both men have clean driving records.

Carabajo-Jara's wife, mother and 4-year-old daughter lived in Ecuador and were notified of his death, but it wasn't clear whether they would travel to New York. The victim shared an apartment with his sister and his cousin in Queens.

Another relative, Ignacio Quintero, said Carabajo-Jara was saving money to build a home in Ecuador. "The family is destroyed," Quintero said in Spanish. "They are in a lot of pain."

Carabajo-Jara was hit early Wednesday morning in the Corona neighborhood while apparently crossing against the light. The driver who initially hit him, Gustavo Acosta, called police, who arrived to find the victim gone and no damage to the Acosta's SUV.

About two vehicles behind, Manuel Lituma Sanchez then drove over the victim, who was lying face-up. His chest was hooked under the sternum by a steel plate under the van used to protect the transmission and undercarriage.

Unaware of anything wrong, Lituma Sanchez made his way along three highways, winding from Queens to Brooklyn's Brighton Beach neighborhood, where he worked as a delivery man, police said.

As he slowed down on the residential streets, he suspected something was wrong with his engine, and he stopped and looked under the hood. But he did not look under the car.

"I didn't feel anything, and I didn't hear anything," Lituma Sanchez told reporters outside his Queens home on Wednesday. "I didn't know what happened."

The van traveled for nearly an hour before a pedestrian alerted the driver to something dragging under the van. Lituma Sanchez looked underneath, saw the body and called authorities.

"You can't imagine the shock I felt" on seeing the corpse, Lituma Sanchez told reporters.

Police retraced the van's route and recovered a blue jacket believed to belong to the victim. Grisly surveillance video showed the body disappearing, swept underneath the van moments after being hit by the SUV. A white car is shown swerving in between.

"Everyone is crying, especially in my country," Jara said. "Everyone is going crazy."

The dragging death is the latest tragedy to strike the Ecuadorean community in the metropolitan area. In December, a 31-year-old Ecuadorean real estate agent who was walking arm in arm with his brother in Brooklyn was beaten to death in an apparent hate crime by assailants who shouted anti-Hispanic and anti-gay slurs, police said.

The killing of Jose Oswaldo Sucuzhanay followed the death of Marcelo Lucero, 37, an Ecuadorean immigrant who was fatally stabbed Nov. 8 by a group of teenagers on Long Island.

Prosecutors said seven teenagers charged in Lucero's assault had set out to attack a Hispanic person. All seven have pleaded not guilty to hate crime and other charges in the killing.

Lucero's death has attracted international attention and prompted a U.S. Justice Department investigation of hate crimes in the area.