CHELSEA — As the investigation into the Union Square hit-and-run death of Roxana Sorina Buta continues, the aspiring actress's friends and family celebrated her life Thursday in an emotional ceremony on what would have been her 22nd birthday.
At the West 26th Street acting school Buta attended, T. Schreiber Studio & Theatre, loved ones described her as kind, funny and full of life.
"Every single thing she did, she did fully," said Page Clements, one of Buta's acting instructors. "My heart is full of joy and sorrow."
Buta was mowed down by a dump truck at 14th Street and Broadway May 24 as she headed from her Greenwich Village waitressing job to her East Harlem apartment. Police said Wednesday that the circumstances of her death are still under investigation.
But Buta's family's lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, said police told him a Department of Transportation driver is being questioned.
"They're still investigating and determining whether to charge [the driver] with a crime or not," he said. "The city is being incredibly derelict in resolving this issue."
Buta's Romania-born mother, Cristina Oprea, said the death of her only child threw her life into turmoil.
"I have a gap in me that will never be filled," she said. "Nothing will bring me peace ever again. I need justice for my daughter."
Buta's stepfather, Dumitru Oprea, said police have identified the driver that hit Buta.
"They are telling us that the driver is cooperating with police," he said.
The approximately 40 people who gathered to remember Buta — many of whom were acting students or teachers — observed a candlelight vigil, read poems and scenes from plays, and sang original songs and old standards.
In light moments the group laughed and talked about the foibles of their "Romanian gypsy sister," who loved to do the "Thriller" dance, sometimes fell asleep in class and occasionally wore her characteristic smile when performing sad roles.
Buta's classmates announced the creation of a scholarship fund in her memory, for one talented acting student at the school.
Her classmate Jillian Eichler said she was still coming to terms with her friend's death despite the weeks that have passed.
"It's the most difficult and baffling thing to lose someone you love," she said.