Elected officials gather in Flushing to support families of nail salon owner and other victims of Long Island drunk driving crash

nail salon
From left to right: Congressmember Grace Meng, Vicky Chen, Assemblymember Ron Kim, Harriette Lo, Steven Chen, State Senator John Liu, Congressmember Sandra Ung and Peter Yu
Photo by Shane O’Brien

Elected officials gathered in Flushing on July 1 to meet with family members of the victims of a car crash at a nail salon on Long Island last week that left four dead and nine injured.

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, State Sen. John Liu, Assemblymember Ron Kim and Council Member Sandra Ung gathered at Kim’s office at 138-20 38th Ave. to pay tribute to the victims of the crash, which took place on Friday, June 28, when an alleged drunk driver plowed his vehicle into the Hawaii Nail & Spa salon in Deer Park, Suffolk County.

Spa owner Jiancai Chen, 37, a Chinese immigrant who lived in Bayside, off-duty NYPD officer Emilia Rennhack, 30, of Deer Park, and Flushing residents Yan Xu, 41, and Meizi Zhang, 50, have been named as the victims of the crash.

Chen’s wife, Wenjun, a co-owner of the salon and a Chinese immigrant, remains in intensive care in the wake of the incident.

The crash ends the immigrant dream for the husband-and-wife duo who opened the salon more than 10 years ago and have two children together, aged 10 and 5. The children are currently being cared for by members of their extended family.

Steven Schwally, a 64-year-old Suffolk County resident, was apprehended at the scene and has since been charged with driving while intoxicated.

Elected officials met with Chen’s brother, Steven, and sister, Vicky, on Monday to offer their condolences and call for Schwally to be held “fully accountable” for the crash last Friday.

“This person was reckless and should not have been anywhere near a vehicle,” Kim told the family in his office Monday.

Kim called on Suffolk County authorities to hold Schwally accountable and “send the strongest message possible.”

He said Jiancai and Wengun Chen’s story was the “story of Flushing,”  noting that the husband and wife “followed the American dream” by opening their own small business.

“On one fatal night, everything was taken away. This is such a tragedy. We had an NYPD officer that we trust to protect us, small business owners and immigrants following the American Dream, all taken away by a reckless driver.”

(L-R) Wenjun Chen (currently in ICU) and Jiancai Chen (deceased), owners of the Hawaii Nail & Spa salon — Photo courtesy of the Chen family

Meng called for “justice to be served” and said the lives of several families have been “turned upside down.”

“We are here today to mourn the deaths of these four people who were killed,” Meng said. “Our hearts ache for their loved ones, whose lives will never be the same all because a reckless driver who was intoxicated decided to get behind the wheel. We call for justice to be served in this case and hope that the person responsible will be fully held accountable.”

Meng added that her office is working with the U.S. Department of State to secure expedited visas for overseas family members so that they can come to the New York for funerals and burials.

“Family members are asking why this happened and why their lives are being turned upside down. While we cannot do much right now to stop the pain, we wanted to at least gather as a community at large and as their local representatives to show them that we are with them during this difficult time.”

Liu described the crash as an “unspeakable act” and said Monday’s event was about standing in solidarity with Steven and Vicky Chen as well as other family members impacted by the crash.

“We were all shocked when we saw the news – a vehicle plowing into a small business filled with people, killing four people and severely injuring nine others. This is an unspeakable act,” Liu said.

“We need them to throw the book at this selfish bastard, who in one action, selfishly, criminally, and recklessly destroyed the lives of so many, including one of New York’s finest. Throw the book at this guy and put him away forever.”

Vicky and Steven Chen address the media. Also pictured: Grace Meng and Ron Kim.Shane O’Brien

A visibly distraught Steven Chen remembered his brother as a good family man and “such a nice person,” adding that he has been living a waking nightmare since his death.

“I hope this is a nightmare, and I wake up and that everything is not real,” Steven Chen said.

He also issued a statement on behalf of the Chen family calling for Schwally to be held “fully accountable” for the crash.

“We ask for no bail and want to make sure that he pays for what he did.”

Monday’s event was also attended by several Asian-American community leaders, including Hariette Lo, Chair of the Federation of Chinese American Associations, and Peter Yu, President of the Chinese Nail Salon Association of East Asia.

Elected officials also called on the public to donate to a GoFundMe launched to support the families.

GoFundMe link: https://gofund.me/7097a578