Body of slain tourist stuck in US

Photo courtesy the Yang family
By Joe Anuta

After a Chinese tourist died from a brutal robbery in Flushing last month, her relatives’ only wish is to take her remains back to their hometown, but instead they are mired in a tangle of red tape in Queens.

“We are exhausted. We just want this to be over,” Wei Yang said through a translator during an interview conducted with him and his wife, Liu Li.

He is the brother of Haiyan Yang, the 37-year-old who was visiting America when three weeks into her trip she was hit so hard during a downtown mugging that she was pronounced brain dead. Yang died from her injuries in late October.

Police arrested Brian Rodriguez, 35, of Long Island, and the Queens district attorney charged him with assault and robbery, although the charges are expected to be upgraded in light of Haiyan Yang’s death.

After news reached Wei Yang in Shanghai, he had to apply for a visa to enter the country and received help from the office of U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside). The couple arrived in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

“Why did he have to hit her so hard?” asked Li, breaking down in tears. “They didn’t leave the family any chance.”

Rodriguez allegedly punched Yang on the side of the head while she was walking near the corner of Parsons Boulevard and 41st Avenue, the DA said.

Haiyan Yang, who worked in sales, had a 10-year-old daughter back in Guangdong, the family’s home province.

A single mother, Yang was not married, but in her 20s adopted the child, Yong En Yang, after she saw the little girl on the street, her brother said.

Wei Yang and Li still have not told the daughter what happened and plan to take her into their home once they return.

But before any of that can happen, they must first traverse the legal obstacles of trying to get Yang’s remains out of the country.

“We did not expect there to be so much paperwork,” he said.

Instead of grieving, the couple said they have been going to hospitals, the medical examiner and the Chinese embassy for nearly two weeks.

He already knew that bringing his sister’s body back to China in a coffin would be too expensive.

“We are not a rich family,” Wei Yang said, adding that a car service to the Long Island hospital from Flushing and back cost a half month’s expenses in China.

But once here they found out cremation requires a notarized signature from Yang’s mother, who was back home in Guangdong.

And so they sent a form back and as of Tuesday were still waiting for its return. They will have to produce a death certificate to the Chinese embassy in order for them to get on a plane back to the country.

Luckily, Wei Yang and Li are staying with a Flushing couple who are friends of Yang’s, and the Chinese community has caught wind of their plight and has donated funds that will go toward cremation and raising Yang’s daughter.

“The support has been tremendous,” said Larry Swint, whose wife knew Yang in China and who has taken in the couple while they wait.

Wei Yang hopes to soon be able to bury his sister, but he also hopes that others in the immigrant community will listen to his story and try to protect each other, since many are far from friends and family, to ensure that a tragedy like this does not happen again.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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