ATLANTIC CITY — Daniel Tavarez died as he lived: helping someone else.
The 45-year-old man planned to ride his motorized scooter from his home in the High Gate Apartments across busy Absecon Boulevard on Tuesday night. His goal: Buy a half-gallon of milk at Cedar Food Market on the other side of the highway for family friend Nichole Harrison.
He never made it. A motorist struck and killed Tavarez at about 9:30 p.m. Monday while he crossed the wide highway, the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office said. The motorist then drove away.
Police said they later found the car believed to be involved in the fatal hit-and-run accident.
Authorities found and questioned the owner, taking him to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Campus in Atlantic City, for blood and urine tests, but withheld the person’s identity. The person was released, and no charges had been filed as of Tuesday night.
Someone created a memorial with stuffed animals and yellow police caution tape at the scene of the crash Tuesday. Fresh skid marks were visible as well as more than a dozen spraypaint marks from the police investigation, stretching across 50 yards of the roadway.
Friends and family remembered Tavarez on Tuesday as a kind, pleasant, talkative person who loved his family, even as they condemned the person who fled the crash.
“They should go to jail. They had to have known he was on a scooter,” his sister Marjorie Torres said. “I want them to go to jail, I want them to pay. There was no one but us here, and now it’s just me.”
She called on acting Atlantic County Prosecutor James P. McClain to fully prosecute the driver.
“I know if I hit somebody (who was riding) with a scooter — I wouldn’t be out,” Torres said.
“How can you just leave someone” lying in the street, Harrison added.
Torres and Harrison wore sunglasses as they spoke at the High Gate complex in the resort’s Marina District, where they also live.
They said the crash so badly disfigured Tavarez that law enforcement refused to let family members see the body.
“If it weren’t for his sneakers and his scooter, I wouldn’t even have known it was him, he was so messed up,” Harrison said.
They said Tavarez used the scooter because of other health problems stemming from an earlier car crash and a fall about 15 years ago from the fourth floor of the parking garage of Sands Casino Hotel that left him near death. He was also HIV-positive, his sister said.
But those problems did not stop him from being active with city Democrats, and he donated his time to the South Jersey AIDS Alliance. They said he would also take trips to nearby food banks for neighbors and run errands for friends. Openly and proudly gay, Tavarez was in a 25-year relationship with a man, and doted on the man’s granddaughter, Torres said.
Allean Smartel, 60, lived across the hallway from Tavarez all 12 years she lived at the High Gate, and said she would miss him.
“He really looked out for me,” she said, adding that as she recovered from cancer, Tavarez would keep track of who came and went from her apartment, calling if an unfamiliar person entered.
“Danny” was friendly and outgoing, involved with the High Gate Apartments Tenants Association, association President Anthony Brower said, adding that Tavarez taught kids to behave well and make good choices.
At Cedar Food Market at Pennsylvania Avenue and Absecon Boulevard, store manager Yasser Barsoum, 28, remembered Tavarez as an outgoing man who would stop by the store to buy a Philly Blunt cigar and a couple of scratch-off lottery tickets.
Hazel Malloy, 58, said she heard the crash from a laundry she manages next to Cedar Food Market. The ringing sound of the crash sounded like someone had hit and upended a large metal trash can, she said.
People on Tuesday described the roadway where Tavarez died as busy, poorly marked, confusing to pedestrians and dangerous to cross.
“To me, I lived here all my life and I don’t cross that highway,” Malloy said.
The roadway at the intersection of North Pennsylvania Avenue and Absecon Boulevard is six lanes wide, with two parallel access roads. There is one pedestrian crosswalk across Absecon Boulevard, on the northwestern half of the roadway.
The junction of Pennsylvania Avenue and Absecon Boulevard was the site of 15 crashes over four years, including one involving a bicyclist, according to the Atlantic City Police Department’s latest statistics covering 2008 to 2011. The intersection ranks as the 102nd most dangerous of 475 intersections in the resort, placing it in the top 25 percentile.
According to the Department of Transportation, there were two motor vehicle crashes on Route 30 by Pennsylvania Avenue last year. Neither resulted in injuries.
Torres said the signals are too quick. Confined to a scooter like her brother, she said she can only get about a quarter of the way across the highway before the lights change.
Richard Nellom, 63, crossed Absecon Boulevard on Tuesday afternoon in a motorized scooter similar to the one Tavarez used.
“It’s scary,” said Nellom, who lives in the nearby Altman Terrace apartment complex. “It’s really scary. Because you have to look at the traffic lights and by the time it takes to get across the boulevard, the traffic lights have all changed.”
This did not excuse the driver, Nellom said, who should have stopped.
“I think it’s a disgrace,” Smartel said. “I think it’s inhumane. You already hit him, so why run?”
Staff Writer Hoa Nguyen contributed to this report.
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