Two Nassau friends on their way by motorcycle to visit family were killed in a hit-and-run crash in upstate Orange County early Sunday, State Police officials said.
Rafaelito DeJesus, 23, of Valley Stream, and Melissa Rupa, 25, of Mineola, were heading north on the New York State Thruway near Exit 16, when they were struck from behind by a vehicle around 1:10 a.m. Sunday, State Police reported.
The friends were thrown from the motorcycle and onto the highway. They were pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
State Police said the man suspected of striking the pair fled the scene. He was later apprehended by Woodbury police after the Orange County medical examiner, who had just come back from the crash scene, noticed a vehicle driving erratically and called police.
They arrested the driver, who was not identified, but who is from nearby Monroe. He is likely to face charges of driving while intoxicated, leaving the scene of a fatal accident and other, more serious, charges, police said. The license plate and a bumper from his vehicle was left at the crash scene, according to police.
At the Valley Stream home DeJesus shared with his uncle and grandmother, dozens of relatives and friends wept and remembered him as a hardworking security guard who was saving money to help bring his father from the Dominican Republic.
An uncle, Danny Castillo, 33, said he last spoke to DeJesus when he arrived home at 10 p.m. Saturday from his job as a security guard at an upscale Manhattan store.
"He told me he was going to go upstate," Castillo said. "I told him to be careful and that it wasn't a good idea because it was dark, but he laughed and he said, 'It will be OK.' "
DeJesus was born and raised in Valley Stream, and studied criminal justice at Nassau Community College, his family said. He had worked as a host at the International House of Pancakes in Valley Stream and was eventually promoted to manager as he paid his way through school.
He later landed a job as a security guard, and his family said he was trying to earn his certification to become an armed guard.
"He was highly motivated to be successful," said Castillo's girlfriend, Sandra Custodio, 27.
Relatives said DeJesus had owned a Honda Civic but traded it in to buy the motorcycle, which he was always fixing and sprucing up.
They said he and Rupa were friends on their way to visit Rupa's family in the Hudson Valley. The investigation is ongoing. With Christian Wade