The family gathering at Sissy Chacko's New Hyde Park home Sunday was supposed to have been a celebratory barbecue with her fiance, feting the Fourth of July and their upcoming wedding.
Instead, Chacko mourned, with family and friends, her fiance Jijo Puthuvamkunnath's death in a boating accident near the Statue of Liberty Friday.
"She still cannot believe that he's dead. She's thinking that he will come home from the hospital," said Alice Joseph, a friend from Chacko's church, Epiphany Mar Thoma Episcopal Church in New Hyde Park, who offered condolences at the family's home Sunday afternoon.
Later Chacko left the house, weeping, clutching a young woman's hand and wiping away tears with a tissue. She said nothing to reporters as she climbed into an SUV and left.
Puthuvamkunnath, 30, was anchored near Liberty Island with two friends in a 17-foot Bayliner Friday afternoon when they were hit by a 30-foot ProLine boat piloted by Richard Aquilone. Puthuvamkunnath, of Bergenfield, N.J., was killed. His two friends, also 30, suffered minor injuries.
Aquilione, 39, of Jersey City, pleaded not guilty to charges of vehicular manslaughter, operating a vessel while under the influence of alcohol and three counts of endangering the welfare of a child. Aquilone's wife, 3-year-old son and another son and daughter, both 2, were in his boat at the time.
A New York City Police Department spokesman Sunday declined to discuss Aquilone's Breathalyzer results. Aquilone was released Saturday night on $50,000 bail.
Puthuvamkunnath and Chacko were to be married Aug. 28 at the Assyrian Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary in Paramus, N.J. Puthuvamkunnath's Facebook profile photo displayed a snapshot of his proposal: the words, "SISSY CHACKO WILL YOU MARRY ME" on the marquee of Merrick Cinemas.
Andrew Cedeno, a projectionist at the cinema on Fisher Avenue in Merrick, told the Bergen Record that the groom-to-be rented out a 215-seat theater for a private screening of "The Notebook," one of Chacko's favorites. As they left the cinema, he told her to look back at the lettering the staff had posted on the marquee during the movie.
"She looked back and she just froze," Cedeno told the Record. "He got down on one knee."
Speaking by phone from his Bergenfield home Sunday, Puthuvamkunnath's father, Varghese, said simply: "I lost my son. We're in mourning now."
The U.S. Park Police said in an incident report regarding Friday's collision that "a commerical tourist vessel named the Shark was also on scene and believed to have been nearby at the time of the incident." Authorities declined to say what, if any, role that boat's presence may have played.