Kevin Liang, who was killed last week in a hit-and-run. (via FDNY)
On September 30th, two days after his 27th birthday, Kevin Liang was fatally struck by a driver while riding his motorcycle over the newly opened span of the Kosciuszko Bridge. With a week having passed since the EMT dispatcher was killed by a hit-and-run driver and seemingly no movement on the investigation into his death, Liang’s family is asking how there could be no security camera footage from such a new, high-profile bridge. And as they remember the Brooklyn-born trailblazer for the Chinese-American community and former extreme athlete, Liang’s family is hoping that some footage telling the entire story of the crash can be found before the case goes cold.
After waiting hours for him to show up for their dinner date in Flushing to celebrate his birthday, Kevin Liang’s girlfriend used a cell phone app to track his location and discovered he had been taken to the hospital. She arrived just before he was pronounced dead. His father, Tommy Liang, arrived shortly after.
Call 800-577-TIPS with any information on the driver who took the life of an off-duty @FDNY member last night. https://t.co/NovqmtOpYs
— NYC Mayor’s Office (@NYCMayorsOffice) October 2, 2017
“I couldn’t believe he was gone,” the senior Mr. Liang said, speaking in Mandarin. “I went to hold him and his body was still warm.”
On Friday, Tommy Liang found himself facing a small group of Chinese media reporters asking how police have yet to find the driver who fled the scene.
“How could it be taking so long?” he wondered, speaking in Mandarin. “It’s been a week.”
“And how is it that there has been no video released yet?,” he continued.
Previous reports of the incident cited witnesses that said the car was a black SUV with only temporary license plates. But there was still no useful video footage, according to a police source with knowledge of the investigation who spoke to the reporters via speaker phone. In fact, as far as he could tell, there were no functioning cameras installed on the bridge, the source repeated in English, Mandarin, and Mr. Liang’s native Cantonese.
The investigation is still ongoing, the source said.
John Chan, a local Chinese community activist who gathered the reporters in his Sunset Park office, was outraged. “We’re such an advanced country and we don’t have a camera on a new bridge?” he exclaimed to the reporters in Mandarin. “I find that unfathomable.”
The state Department of Transportation is responsible for maintaining the Kosciuszko Bridge, a community liaison told Gothamist. A police spokesperson told Gothamist that an investigation is ongoing, and that there were no new updates on the case.
Kevin Liang’s cousin, Pang Lee, 42, flew home to New York from Shanghai where he works as a lawyer. “We’re afraid the case will go cold,” he later explained by phone. “Once you bury Kevin, it’s just going to be another accident that’s gets forgotten.”
“We’re frustrated that police are not doing enough,” he said. “If the they wait too long, the family is worried cameras will record over themselves. They have limited memory.”
Whatever video exists, Mr. Lee is hoping that investigators get it sooner rather than later. Lee said he was “frustrated that there was no surveillance near an area of the old Kosciusko Bridge that was about to be blown away the next day. It has to be there.”
Earlier this week, the family started advertising a $10,000 reward on social media for any video or other information leading to “the arrest and conviction of the hit-and-run driver.” As of today, the reward was increased to $25,000. “We’re hoping because the bridge always has traffic, that at least one car caught footage of the accident. This is not some isolated empty corner of New York, it’s one of the busiest stretches of highway in America.”
“There has to be some footage somewhere: a car cam, a taxi driver dash cam. If the cameras on top of the road cannot identify the [vehicle in question] maybe the cars on the road captured enough evidence,” Mr. Lee said.
“There’s a chance. There’s an okay chance,” he added with a hint of hope in his voice.
Kevin (center) with his family, just two days before he died. (Courtesy of the Liang family)
Mr. Lee described his cousin as “an extreme athlete, who did ironman-like events,” and ran at least one city marathon. “We need somebody like him. He’s a role model for us — a kid from Brooklyn and the Chinese community.”
Kevin Liang’s parents, who emigrated from Guangdong Province in the early 1980s, were excited to learn he passed his civil service exam earlier this year and was on his way to becoming a firefighter. “That was always his dream,” Mr. Lee said. “He had a big heart and always wanted to help people out.” He had served as an FDNY EMT dispatcher for two years.
“From the Chinese perspective he was a good son. A good family guy,” who every year would follow his father back to their home village to tend to the graves of their ancestors on tomb-sweeping day. Kevin was his parents’ only son.
“And from the American perspective, what else could you want? He was about to be a New York City fireman, a proud son of Bay Ridge and a trailblazer for the Chinese-American community,” Mr. Lee said. He noted how so few Chinese-American firefighters serve in the ranks of the department, and was told by city fire officials who came to pay their condolences that Liang was the first Chinese-American in FDNY history to die as an active member.
Though he had worked an FDNY EMT dispatcher and had not yet finished his training “they really do treat Kevin as one of their own,” he said of the department. Mr. Lee was particularly moved by the ten-car detail that carried his cousin’s body from city’s examiner’s office to the funeral home and how so many members of the department stopped by their home to give their condolences, including Fire Chief Anthony Napoli.
“I didn’t realize the FDNY was like a family,” he said. “But I felt it. And our family really appreciates that.”
Mr. Lee said that the whole community has been grieving. The wives of the funeral director and fire department chief used to get their nails done at the shop in Bensonhurst run by Kevin’s mother. Kevin’s father had a poultry business in Chinatown that used to deliver to restaurateurs, including activist John Chan, who teared up after the press left his office.
“In the accident report there’s only one side. It’s incomplete,” Mr. Lee said. Obtaining the footage from the accident has become a matter of “justice and closure.”
The family is seeking to know “the whole story,” Mr. Lee said, “and it’s one that only driver that hit Kevin that would really know. Lee feels the footage would at least provide some closure on a case that could go cold after Liang is buried.
Mr. Liang’s wake is scheduled for Monday and his funeral is scheduled for Tuesday.
Additional reporting by David Colon