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Vigil for man killed by hit-and-run ‘dollar van’ driver on Flatbush Ave.

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Photo gallery

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Family: Will Sagardia Sr., Will Sagardia Jr. and their cousin Kevin stand together.
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Love shines a light: Janine Horowitz and her daughter Sophia lit candles during the vigil.
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In loving memory: Angel Sagardia was killed by a driver in an illegal van near Kings Plaza on Aug. 12.
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Hope and prayers: Pastor Gopaul of Saint Vincent Ferrer Roman Catholic Church speaks during the vigil.
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Shining a light: Joanne Maratea and her son Christian hold candles during the vigil for Angel Sagardia, who was killed during a hit-and-run incident on Aug. 12.

A neighborhood came together on Aug. 18 to offer hope and prayers during a candlelight vigil for Angel Sagardia, who was killed on Aug. 12, when a livery driver struck him as he tried to cross a busy street in Marine Park.

Sagardia was traversing Flatbush Avenue towards Kings Plaza with his wife Samantha — who remains in critical condition — when the driver of a commuter van hit them both and then took off, according to police. Family, friends, and neighbors gathered in front of the Sagardia’s home on E. 34th Street to light candles and share stories about the couple. Pastor A. Peter Gopaul from St. Vincent Ferrer Roman Catholic Church also spoke, and the emotion on the street was palpable, said one of Samantha’s coworkers from PS 140.

“Tremendous, you could just see and feel the closeness and the sincerity of the people that were there and the words they used,” said Janine Horowitz of Midwood.

Sagardia and his wife tried to cross toward Kings Plaza in the middle of Flatbush Avenue between Avenues U and V when a grey Ford Omnibus van traveling toward the Belt Parkway struck them and then fled a little before 5 pm, police said. Emergency responders took the couple to Kings County Hospital, where 47-year-old Angel succumbed to his injuries and 50-year-old Samantha remains in critical condition with severe head trauma and internal injuries, according to authorities. Officials recovered the vehicle in East Flatbush but have not arrested the driver, and the investigation remains ongoing, a police source said.

Mourners at Thursday’s vigil also sounded off on so-called “dollar vans” — sometimes-unlicensed livery vehicles that shuttle riders up and down Flatbush Avenue, often illegally taking street hails and driving recklessly, locals say.

And the Aug. 12 hit-and-run is not the first time a dollar van has killed or injured someone, but this most recent tragedy only highlights the dire need for more enforcement from the city, said Horowitz.

“A lot of people spoke about the dollar vans — different laws or even having them eliminated,” she said. “That would be a step in the right direction.”

Councilman Alan Maisel (D–Marine Park) attended the vigil and said that the city needs to be more aggressive against the vans, because drivers are putting people’s lives at risk.

“We need the laws that exist to be enforced,” he said. “The vans that are driving up and down Flatbush, driven by people who do not necessarily have the best records, or who do not follow traffic rules, pick up passengers in bus routes,” he said. “This is going on 15 to 18 years — it’s not something that just happened yesterday. We need to enforce the current rules. It’s a mystery as to why the [Taxi and Limousine Commission] is not more proactive.”

And state Sen. Martin Golden (R–Marine Park) hosted a meeting on Aug. 19 outside of Kings Plaza with the Taxi and Limousine Commission, officers from the 63rd precinct, and the Department of Transportation to discuss options for making the streets safer.

The city continues to punish the illegal use of dollar vans, a livery commission spokeswoman said.

“The TLC does regular enforcement against unauthorized commuter vans on Flatbush Avenue and other neighborhoods, combined with education and outreach to passengers about how to distinguish between legal and illegal commuter vans,” said rep Rebecca Harshbarger.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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