A year later, family seeks public's help solving hit-and-run
One week before Milton Maldonado was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Central Islip, he shared one last meal with his sister.
Kenia Cruz met with Maldonado, 45, and took him out for Chinese food. They laughed and caught up on their lives over plates of shrimp fried rice and beef lo mein.
"We were talking about getting a place for him to stay," Cruz said, as Maldonaldo had been homeless for years. "I was talking about going to take him to go see a room. I was going to pay for it."
But Cruz didn't get the chance to help her older brother. On March 30, 2013, police were called at 11:24 p.m. about an injured man. It was later determined that Maldonado, who died at the scene, had been struck by a vehicle on Church Street, a narrow two-way street off East Suffolk Avenue.
No arrests have been made.
Sunday, on the first anniversary of the accident, Cruz asked for help from the public and police to solve the case.
She tied a Puerto Rican flag around a metal banister on the sidewalk, along with a crucifix, blue and white flowers and balloons that read, "I miss you" and "Thinking of you."
Detectives weren't available for comment Sunday.
The hit-and-run was the final "injustice" Maldonado suffered, Cruz said, as the last years of his life were marked by hardship.
Born in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, as a teen Maldonado moved with his family to Paterson, N.J., before settling in Central Islip about 30 years ago, Cruz said.
For years, Maldonado had steady work as a manager for Eight In One Pet Products and Allied Moving Service before he "fell on hard times," Cruz said.
Hard times worsened when his mother, whom he cared for, died in 2011, friends said. That's when his drinking worsened, friends said. "He never recovered from" her death, said Wayne Robinson, 23, an employee of the Laundry Palace, a coin-operated laundry where Maldonado sometimes worked.
Vodka was his drink of choice, "anything cheap," said Robinson, yet noting that Maldonado's drinking did not take away from his compassion. "There aren't a lot of good people around here, but he was one of them."
Maldonado died within the same one-block radius his life seemed to revolve around in his last years. He would often ask to sweep up the laundry's parking lot for some extra cash and was known to squat in an abandoned, boarded-up ranch house a few yards from the accident scene.
As much as he was a staple on that block, Maldonado -- who never married and had no children -- was as anonymous as he was well-liked, affectionately known as "Tito."
"I don't know him by Milton," Robinson said. "We didn't know that was his name until he died."
Cruz, 31, said on that last day the siblings met, she recalled him jokingly calling her "bruja," Spanish for "witch."
"I dropped him off and gave him a couple of bucks and he said, 'All right, bruja, I'll see you later,' " Cruz said.
"I told him, 'Be careful, and I'll see you when I see you.' "