While hundreds of children dressed in colorful Halloween costumes scurried up and down Morris Park Avenue Monday afternoon, a small group of mostly black-clad mourners stood silent at the corner of Bogart Avenue.
The group had gathered to remember three people killed a year ago in a freak auto accident.
At just before 5 p.m. on October 31, 2015, a driver jumped the curb at 939 Morris Park Avenue and struck and killed 10-year-old Nyanna Aquil and her 65-year-old grandfather Louis Perez, as well as 24-year-old Albanian immigrant Kristjan Leka.
Aquil’s three-year-old sister was also injured. Leka was able to push his nine-year-old sister out of the way, and she suffered just minor injuries.
His fiancé was also injured. Another of Aquil’s younger sisters was pushed to safety by the grandfather just before the impact.
On Monday, members of the victim’s families spoke of the losses they endured a year ago. They also planted three flowers at the scene in the victims’ memory.
“This pain that you’re going though is one that we share with all of you,” said Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj, who hosted the event. The accident occurred right outside of Gjonaj’s office.
Natalia Perez, Aquil’s mother and Perez’s daughter, said she and her family had been through a lot, but urged people not to cry for them.
“My daughter and my dad have helped us get through a lot of our days, and Kristjan as well, and I know they are smiling down on us standing here and remembering them,” Perez said.
While Perez called the fatal accident a horrible tragedy that never should have happened, she urged those on hand to be grateful for every day they are lucky enough to have.
“We all should embrace what God has given us while we are here, and just enjoy the present moment that we have and each day we are breathing and live our lives to the fullest, because we don’t know how long we have here,” she said.
Leka had come toa the United States from Albania with his family when he was eight.
His father, Martin Leka, said the past year had been the worst of his family’s life.
He recalled his son as a perfect young man who loved life in America, worked hard and was always very active.
“He was working five days a week, he was making money, he was going seven days a week to the gym for his health, and he was making time for his friends and his family,” his father recalled.
Leka said his son also loved and respected his family, sending a message to his mother every day wishing her a good morning, and always looked after his brother and sister.
Leka had taken his sister trick-or-treating when the accident occurred, he said.
“He wanted his sister to be happy at all times, bringing her to so many places,” Leka said. “That day, the accident happened because he wanted to make her happy.”
A 2011 Dodge Charger driven by 52-year-old Howard Unger was traveling westbound when it clipped the rear bumper of a Toyota sedan, causing it to veer onto the sidewalk and strike the six pedestrians, then a brick wall, before stopping.
Gjonaj said the tragedy one year ago was still fresh in the minds of many families, and was the inspiration for the Safe Streets, Safe Treats event held after the memorial ceremony.
“That memory will be on the mind of every parent in this community,” he said after the memorial as wagon hayrides made their way up the street and a DJ blasted top 40 hits while kids stood in line for large bags of candy.
The Halloween event closed down the street for several blocks to allow children to get treats and take part in games and other festivities. The event was funded by Gjonaj and Senator Jeff Klein, who was also on hand.
“We typically don’t take it to this level, of closing down streets, but after last year’s tragedy so many parents shared similar concerns that we felt this was the right way to go,” Gjonaj said
Police said the freak accident occurred when Unger had an epileptic seizure caused by allegedly not taking his required medication.
Unger was indicted earlier this month on three counts of second-degree assault, a class D violent felony, three counts of criminally negligent homicide, a class E felony, one count of second-degree reckless endangerment, a class A misdemeanor, and false statement, an unclassified misdemeanor.
The last charge stems from Unger concealing his medical history when applying for his driver’s license application, according to Bronx D.A. spokesperson Patrice O’Shaughnessy.
Unger was released last October 31 after posting $75,000 bail, according to the city corrections database.
He is expected to appear in court again on Wednesday, November 23.