EDENWALD — After two years in the U.S., Kevin Lee had made just a handful of American friends.
So it was among fellow transplants from Jamaica that Lee, 23, was cruising with through The Bronx in a 1998 Nissan Altima on Monday night, according to Lee’s family and police.
The car’s 18-year-old driver, Chad Bennett, was drunk, police said. At about 11:17 near Woodlawn Cemetery, Bennett allegedly lost control of the car and slammed into a pole, according to police.
Bennett and an unidentified 23-year-old passenger were injured, but survived. Lee, who was sitting in a backseat, did not.
“It was just a tragic accident that never should have happened,” Lee’s mother, who asked not to be named, said Wednesday inside a brick duplex on the quiet Edenwald street where Lee lived with her and his 13-year-old sister.
Part of the family moved from Saint Ann, Jamaica, to The Bronx in 2003, but Lee did not arrive until 2010, after he had graduated from high school on the island. They settled in a section of the northernmost Bronx where, with a West Indian bakery and a Caribbean diner just around the corner from their house, they were surrounded by Jamaican neighbors, Lee’s mother said.
Lee drew detailed cartoon characters; he played video games and loved to watch the anime series, "Dragon Ball Z," his family said.
He spent much of his time at home. There, he played pranks on his younger sister, pouncing out of dark corners, making her screech until she laughed.
“He was like a kid that never grew up,” his mother said.
In high school, he read book after book about entrepreneurs who had found ways to launch enterprises and strike it rich, according to a cousin. The narratives struck a chord — Lee dreamed of starting his own company one day.
But first, he needed to go to college. He was working on his GED, which would have allowed him to enroll in college, when he died, his family said.
“He was one of the good ones,” said his mother. “They say the good ones die young. And it’s so true.”
Bennett, the driver, was arrested and charged with vehicular manslaughter, reckless endangerment, criminally negligent homicide, reckless driving, speeding and driving while intoxicated, police said.
On Wednesday, a cousin answered the door at the Bennett residence, which sits less than a mile from Lee’s home.
The 19-year-old cousin, who gave his name only as Ray, said the family did not want to speak with reporters. But he said his cousin is a “smart kid” who attends college.
Back at Lee’s house, the family said the young man only associated with people he trusted. They didn’t know what happened Monday night.
“I can’t talk about it,” said Lee’s cousin, who also declined to give her name. She was wearing a black T-shirt and dark sunglasses Wednesday and was headed to have Lee’s gray suit pressed.
“I’m still in a nightmare,” she said.