By Sonja Sharp, Wil Cruz and Shayna Jacobs
QUEENS — An octogenarian who fled the Cuban revolution and made a home in Astoria was mowed down by an allegedly drunken former fur trader driving a Mercedes on Tuesday who said he "had a green light," authorities and the victim's family members said.
Lizardo Aldama's death on 21st Avenue and 31st Street left left loved ones shaken at the 89-year-old man's demise after a lifetime of struggle.
"He's been through hell and back and to die from a car on the corner," said Carlos Lopez, the owner of Havana Express, a neighborhood restaurant that Aldama was headed to on the day of his death.
Aldama regularly ate dinner at the eatery, just steps from the scene of the accident, and then went to visit his wife's grave at St. Michael's Cemetery nearby, his family said. It was not clear if he intended to go there the night of his death.
The victim was crossing 21st Avenue about 6 p.m. when a black 1998 Mercedes SUV plowed into him, authorities said. He was rushed to Mount Sinai Hospital, but was pronounced dead there about 45 minutes later.
The driver of the luxury car, Demitrios Matsoukatidis, 67, allegedly had a .16 blood alcohol level — twice the legal limit — and has been charged with vehicular manslaughter and drunk driving.
Matsoukatidis, a retired fur trader, told police at the scene of the accident that he "had a green light," and "was wearing a seat belt," Queens prosecutor Kerona Samuels said at the driver's arraignment Wednesday.
Queens Criminal Court Judge John Zoll called the accident "a sad and tragic situation" and ordered the suspect, a Greek immigrant and longtime Astoria resident, according to his attorney Dennis Coppin, held on $50,000 bail.
Family members and friends of Aldama mourned the loss and the events that took the life of the Cuban refugee, who came to Astoria in 1961.
"It's terrible. He had plenty more life to live, and it was tragically cut short by a drunk driver," said James Foertsch, Aldama's son-in-law.
"He was an immigrant from Cuba that came here with nothing, and he built a wonderful family."
Aldama was planning a trip to Tampa to visit his son. He would also regularly make the trek to Long Island to see his daughter, Maite Aldama-Foertsch, and his teenage grandson.
After his wife died a few years ago, Aldama spent his days going to 31st Street for mass at the Immaculate Conception Parish, where he was a member of the Knights of Columbus.
Havana Express owner Lopez said the men were on the last ship to leave Cuba in 1959 and traveled to Spain together.
They came to New York separately and reunited when Lopez randomly checked out an apartment in a building in Astoria, finding Aldama already living on the first floor.
"He was like an uncle to me," said Carlos Lopez, 58.