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Family's Hopes Dashed by Death of Deli Worker Hit by Accused Drunk Driver

By Serena Solomon | January 17, 2014 7:49am

EAST VILLAGE — Rukanul Islam received the phone call from the rehabilitation center just 12 minutes after midnight on New Year's Day — his father, Akkas Ali, was dead.

After surviving massive head injuries when an allegedly drunk and drugged-up driver smashed into him in the East Village last June, Ali died of a heart attack more than six months later when his breathing tube fell from his throat, the city's medical examiner determined.

"We had hope, more hope he was coming home soon," Islam, a 22-year-old East Village resident said. "We didn't think that was going to happen."

Ali, 62, was working in the flower shop outside East Village Farm & Grocery at Second Avenue and East Fourth Street on June 19 when driver Shaun Martin's car hurtled into him, police said, leaving Ali with brain injuries and a broken ankle and leg. A cyclist and two other deli staff members were less seriously hurt.

After remaining in a coma for weeks, Ali showed signs of improving when he opened his eyes in July. By the end of the year, Ali was sitting up in bed, walking with assistance and making attempts to speak to his family, which hails from Bangladesh. His wife visited every day and the children stopped by whenever they weren't working, Islam said. 

"He was getting better and better, and then he went to zero," he said.

After regaining consciousness in Bellevue hospital, Ali was transferred to Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in New Jersey. For the next stage of treatment, Ali was transferred to Park Terrace Care Center in Queens on Dec. 9, where he was when he died, Islam said.

In the days before Ali's death, Islam spent as much time by his dad's bedside as he could, visiting whenever he was not at his job in a Meatpacking District restaurant. 

Ali's breathing tube prevented him from speaking, but he managed to communicate with his son using hand gestures and making noises in his throat.

"He always has something inside that he wanted to say," Islam said. "He was holding your hand to say, 'Take me home.'"

Islam said it is still unknown how the tracheotomy tube in his father's throat became dislodged, prompting the heart attack that killed his father. The medical examiner's report listed Ali's death an accident.

A staff member from Park Terrace declined to comment on the death, citing patient confidentiality laws.

Ali's family has already filed a lawsuit against Martin and the car rental company Budget, from where he got the car, according to Michelle Clemmens, a lawyer from Lipsig, Shapey, Manus & Moverman, which is handling the case.

The lawsuit is on hold pending an update based on Ali's death, Clemmens said.

Following the crash, Martin was charged with vehicular assault, driving while high and intoxicated and criminal possession of a controlled substance. He was jailed and released on $100,000 bail, court records show.

In a separate incident in December, Martin was charged with possession of a controlled substance and harassment for threatening to shoot someone, according to a criminal complaint from the Queens District Attorney’s office. He posted bail again and was released, court and Department of Correction records show.

Martin's lawyer did not immediately respond to an inquiry.

"I am very angry at this driver. Very angry," Islam said. "He is a criminal, not just a drunken driver."

Martin is due back in court Tuesday, when the Manhattan District Attorney's office will determine if his charges will be increased following Ali's death.

Islam said his dad's medical insurance covered the hospital bills and almost $20,000 in donations from New Yorkers helped the family cope with the loss of Ali's income.

But the family is still struggling to comprehend the death of Ali, who came to the United States alone in 1991 and worked for 10 years before he was able to send for his family.

Ali's wife is devastated by the loss of her husband, Islam said.

"Every single memory of my dad makes her cry."