Ozone Park community members celebrate unveiling of ‘Auntie Rita Way’ street sign

Ozone Park residents unveil a street sign honoring the late Rita Persaud.
City Councilwoman Joann Ariola (r.) joins Ozone Park community members for the unveiling of ‘Auntie Rita Way’ on Sunday, Oct. 2. (Photo courtesy of Ariola’s office)

Members of the Ozone Park community on Sunday, Oct. 2, celebrated the unveiling of a street sign honoring the late Rita Persaud — a beloved community leader who was killed in a tragic hit-and-run incident nearly two years ago. 

Councilwoman Joann Ariola and Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz joined community members to unveil “Auntie Rita Way” at the intersection of 103rd Avenue and 92nd Street in Ozone Park. 

The intersection of 103rd Avenue and 92nd Street in Ozone Park is now known as Auntie Rita Way. (Photo via Facebook/Romeo Hitlall)

Earlier this year, Ariola introduced the legislation to co-name the intersection at the request of the Indo-Caribbean community and the leadership of Romeo Hitlall, second vice district governor of the Richmond Hill-South Ozone Park Lions Club. 

“We wanted an area that brought great sorrow to so many people to be turned into great happiness, and a celebration for a life well-lived,” Ariola said, explaining the decision to choose that location for the site of the street renaming. Rita Persaud — known to so many in her community as Auntie Rita — touched the lives of countless people during her time here on Earth. Whether it was through her work at the Shanti Bhavan Mandir, or through her day-to-day interactions with her friends and neighbors, Rita’s life was a bright light for all who encountered her. Through this renaming ceremony, that light will continue to shine on, and her legacy will continue for generations to come.” 

Born in Guyana, Persaud moved to New York City in 1999 and quickly found a home amongst the West Indian Hindu community. Aside from her work as an accountant, Persaud spent much of her time on service projects to improve her community. Tragically, Persaud’s life was cut short on Christmas Eve in 2020, when the Uber she was riding in was struck during a hit-and-run accident near the Church of The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at 101-41 91st. St.

Rita Persaud (Photo via Facebook/Romeo Hitlall)

A vigil was held at the site in remembrance of Persaud as community leaders called for swift justice seeking an arrest in the case. 

Nine months later, police arrested Jason Liriano, a reputed Brooklyn gang member, who was charged with criminally negligent homicide and other crimes for allegedly crashing into a vehicle and fleeing the scene of the incident. 

“The manner in which Auntie Rita was killed caused much outrage within the Queens community and brought several community leaders together to press the NYPD for a swift and detailed investigation,” Hitlall said. “We stand in solidarity with Auntie Rita’s family, siblings and other family members who have had to bear the pain of her tragic death.” 

Katz acknowledged Queens Assistant District Attorney Dylan Nesturrick, who is prosecuting Liriano for criminally negligent homicide. 

“As we are holding the man who killed Rita Persaud accountable, we will continue to hold people accountable for the way they drive,” Katz said. “When she was killed, we were dogged in finding the individuals who did this, but car crimes and homicides that happen when people are driving, are all too often happening in this city and borough. Today is about Rita and this community who stands together through greatness and bad times. I thank you for all you do for the borough of Queens county. This community has been unbelievable in giving of themselves to our county, and I’m forever grateful as the DA.” 

Persaud’s family member thanked local elected officials and the community organizations for their outpouring support. 

(Photo via Facebook/Romeo Hitlall)

Before reciting an opening prayer at the ceremony, Pandit Manoj Jadubans, priest and spiritual leader of Shaanti Bhavan Mandir, said one of the things Persaud loved the most was chanting the Hari Om prayer at the temple. 

“From the time she walked right into the mandir, she would sing. You would see the devotion in her as we chant,” Jadubans said. 

Zaman Mohamed Amin, a close friend of Persaud, said her spirit and teachings will forever remain in their hearts and souls. 

“Islamically, we are told when you teach and you give, and it’s the same in Hinduism, the greatest blessing you can do is serving your community. There is no other server like Aunty Rita Persaud,” Amin said. “Today we celebrate her life. New York City, New York state and Queens, will forever know her name as ‘Auntie Rita Way.’”