This story was reported by Tom Brune, Stefanie Dazio, Nicole Fuller, Robert E. Kessler, Antonio Planas and Victor Manuel Ramos . It was written by Fuller.
Suffolk County police on Saturday were investigating the circumstances in the death of Evelyn Rodriguez, the Brentwood mother turned anti-gang violence crusader who was fatally struck by a vehicle during a dispute over a sidewalk memorial to her slain daughter.
Police on Saturday released no new information publicly, including whether any criminal charges would be filed, in connection with the death of Rodriguez, 50. She was struck by an SUV in Brentwood Friday afternoon before a scheduled vigil to mark the two-year anniversary of the discovery of the body of her daughter Kayla Cuevas, 16, who, along with her friend Nisa Mickens, 15, was beaten with bats and machetes, allegedly by MS-13 gang members. Their killings cast a national spotlight on Long Island’s gang scourge and garnered the attention of President Donald Trump.
Suffolk detectives on Saturday afternoon interviewed Freddy Cuevas — Rodriguez’s longtime partner and the father of Kayla Cuevas — who declined to discuss the police investigation. Cuevas sobbed at the scene of the crash, near where his daughter’s body had been discovered exactly two years ago to the day Friday. “It’s not fair,” he cried.
Rodriguez died at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore on Friday after she was hit by a 2016 Nissan Rogue at 4 p.m. on Ray Court near Stahley Street. The crash occurred following a dispute — captured by a News 12 Long Island camera — with the driver, a relative of a resident of Ray Court, over the placement of a memorial for Cuevas, less than two hours before a candlelight vigil for Rodriguez’s daughter was set to begin, authorities said. Police have not released the name of the driver.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who had become close with Rodriguez after Cuevas’ death and was on his way to the vigil when he heard of the crash, on Saturday morning described an “eerie” scene the day before as mourners arrived, some with musical instruments, for Kayla Cuevas’ vigil and had not yet heard of what happened to her mother.
The driver “attempted to leave the scene and her vehicle struck Rodriguez,” police have said in a statement, adding that the driver remained on the scene and called 911.
Family friend Otto Puello, 51, of Manhattan, said he was at the home that Rodriguez and Cuevas shared — just a block away from where the candlelight vigil was to take place — on Friday afternoon when Rodriguez got a call that someone had removed the memorial of balloons and candles they had placed on a sidewalk on Ray Court, a cul-de-sac abutting a wooded area where Kayla Cuevas’ body was found on Sept. 14, 2016.
He said Cuevas and Rodriguez rushed to the memorial.
Cuevas said they had placed photos, candles and balloons on the sidewalk in anticipation of a candlelight vigil in honor of their daughter and Mickens planned for later that day.
Politicians and officials such as Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) had planned to attend, the family said.
“All of a sudden it was removed, incredibly, for no reason,” said Cuevas, who said he and Rodriguez confronted the people who they believe removed the items. Cuevas said he saw the actions as a sign of disrespect.
“We got a call, we got a tip, letting us know, ‘Yo, you need to come over here now’ because the artifacts were removed,” Cuevas said.
“We approached them, asked them, ‘Why had the situation occurred? What brought the situation to the point that it did?’ ” Cuevas said. “They just didn’t want to say nothing. … It took a turning point that it shouldn’t have taken because there was no reason for her to spin out and drive off.”
Puello said Freddy Cuevas has been inconsolable over the death of the woman he’s been with for 35 years. They have two other daughters and a 1-year-old grandson, Puello said.
“It’s unbelievable,” Puello said. “You can’t believe it. Even the cops said unheard of, the same spot, the anniversary.”
A stream of mourners passed by the site of the crash throughout the day Saturday. Around noon, Alexander Rivas, 19, deposited some roses and stood in silent reflection before a permanent memorial to both girls, within sight of the spot where Rodriguez was struck Friday.
He shook his head in disbelief, saying he had planned to attend the vigil because he had been a classmate of Cuevas in high school.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Rivas said. “Brentwood needs to stand up together,” he added, for the community to change for the better.
Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a tweet Saturday morning that law enforcement will continue Rodriguez’s mission.
“Those of us who fight to keep our children safe and rid our communities of gangs lost a valiant partner yesterday [Friday],” she wrote on Twitter. “Evelyn Rodriguez turned her family’s unspeakable tragedy into a crusade to keep other kids and communities safe from the scourge of MS-13.”
In a speech at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood last year, the president said the gang “butchered those little girls” and vowed to hunt down, jail and deport gang members.
Rodriguez said later that she appreciated Trump’s acknowledgment of the families’ losses.
“What he was saying was what we’ve been asking for — more resources, for him to support our Suffolk PD,” she said. “We need change here in our community.”
“Her effect has just been tremendous, tremendous, in such a short time,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said Saturday morning in a telephone interview, less than 24 hours after she’d been driving to Cuevas’ vigil and saw a report of the crash on her cellphone with an address that matched the site.
Both teens’ families were invited to Trump’s State of the Union address as White House guests and met with the president.
Elizabeth Alvarado, mother of Nisa Mickens, said on Saturday she was “devastated” by Rodriguez’s death and the loss of her best friend.
“We raised our kids together. I have very good memories about me and Evelyn,” Alvarado said. “We call each other our best friend. We finish each other’s sentences. I’m just very, very upset and emotional about what happened. It didn’t have to happen. The only word I can say is I’m devastated. I lost my best friend.”
The Rev. Stanislaw Wadowski, pastor of St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church in Brentwood, where Kayla Cuevas’ funeral was held in 2016, said in a voice message: “It’s totally sad what has happened. It shouldn’t have happened.”
A viewing is scheduled for 2 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Michael J. Grant Funeral Home, 571 Suffolk Ave., Brentwood. A funeral Mass is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday at St. Anne’s, 88 Second Ave., Brentwood.