South Ozone Park community mourns loss of ‘beautiful spirit’ who was killed by hit-and-run driver

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Photo via Facebook/Rita Persaud

South Ozone Park community leaders are calling for swift justice for Rita Persaud, a beloved Indo-Caribbean vocalist and devotee of the Shaanti Bhavan Mandir in Jamaica, who was killed by a hit-and-run driver on Dec. 24. 

At least 150 people, including the Shaanti Bhavan congregation and Persaud’s family and friends, gathered on Dec. 27 at the scene of the incident by the Church of The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at 101-41 91st St., for a vigil in remembrance of Persaud, who was also known as “Aunty Reets.” 

“Aunty Rita left an indelible impact on so many of us, encouraging us to use our voices to chant God’s glories the entire duration of her life. Today we use our voices to demand justice and call on our South Queens community to help locate and ultimately convict the spineless person responsible for taking Aunty Reets’ life,” said Aminta Kilawan-Narine, founder of South Queens Women’s March and co-founder of Sadhana. 

A makeshift memorial of candles and posters with prayers was created and bhajans (Hindu hymns) were sung by attendees. Each night since Persaud’s passing, at least 800 individuals have joined virtual wakes in her honor. 

Persaud’s funeral service will be held on Thursday, Dec. 31, at Bergen Funeral Home at 102-17 101st Ave. in Ozone Park. She is survived by her 25-year-old niece Darshanie, her brothers Glen, Jaio and Deochand, and her nephew Danesh.

Persaud’s relatives extended sincere and profound gratitude to the public for their generous outpouring of grief and support over the tragedy.

“The overwhelming grief in the community is testimony of the life of selfless service that Rita lived in the last 54 years. She touched the lives of thousands and created a unique and distinct sense of belonging with each person she met in her short lifespan,” Persaud’s relatives said in a statement. “She was a beautiful spirit that lived to serve others. She found great joy in spreading happiness to others through service initiatives in the Hindu West Indian Community in New York and further abroad.” 

Persaud, who was 54 years old, was just a few blocks from her Ozone Park home on Dec. 24 and was sitting in the back of an Uber, a black Toyota Camry, when the driver of the vehicle made a left turn on Rockaway Boulevard and 103rd Avenue and was hit by Lamborghini Urus SUV, according to the NYPD.

The Uber driver was taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center with injuries, and was subsequently listed in stable condition. The passenger in the Lamborghini was also taken to Jamaica Hospital in stable condition. According to authorities, the driver of the Lamborghini fled the scene on foot. 

“The perpetrators of this senseless death of Rita must be apprehended and brought to justice as soon as possible,” Persaud’s relatives said in a statement. “We are imploring the district attorney and all law enforcement to utilize their power and ensure justice is served. We are also calling on anyone with information about the identity of the missing driver to share with law enforcement.”

Born in Guyana, Persaud migrated to New York in 1999 and immediately found broad-based acceptance in the West Indian Hindu community. While she spent her days as an accountant, all of her evenings and weekends were spent in the Hindu community in service projects (seva).

Persaud mentored and schooled both adults and children in the community and was always the first to offer a hand to help those in need, according to Persaud’s relatives.

Pandit Manoj Jadubans, priest and spiritual leader of Shaanti Bhavan Mandir, said Persaud’s death has impacted many in the community, but the Mandir has suffered a “devastating loss.” 

“It is important that together we do not rest until the driver is found,” Jadubans said. “The great lord knows and what is in the dark will eventually come to light as Rita was the light to many.”

Several local elected officials also denounced the crime and expressed the urgency of apprehending the individual responsible for taking Persaud’s life. 

“The tragic death of Rita Persaud has caused immeasurable pain to so many,” Councilwoman Adrienne Adams said. “The harm created by this despicable, cowardly act must not go unpunished. We seek swift justice in Rita’s name and legacy.”

Assemblywoman-elect Jennifer Rajkumar, who has spoken with Captain Fidacaro of the 102nd Precinct, said she is “confident that the NYPD will use its full resources to ensure the perpetrator is apprehended and brought to justice.”

District Leader Richard David said it has been a year full of despair and grief, with yet another avoidable death in the death of Persaud. 

“I know the authorities will investigate this fully and seek justice for this family. But even that will not bring her back. We must slow down, please,” David said. 

Anyone with information on the driver of the Lamborghini is encouraged to call Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS (8477) or visit nypdcrimestoppers.com.

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