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85-Year-Old Man Fatally Struck by Box Truck in Hit-and-Run, NYPD Says

By  Gwynne Hogan and Aidan Gardiner | January 9, 2017 2:47pm | Updated on January 10, 2017 7:38am

  An elderly man was fatally struck by a white box truck that fled the scene Monday afternoon, NYPD officials said.
An elderly man was fatally struck by a white box truck that fled the scene Monday afternoon, NYPD officials said.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

WILLIAMSBURG — An elderly man, called a "neighborhood watchdog," by those on the block who knew him, was fatally struck by a white box truck that left the scene, steps away from his own doorstep Monday afternoon, NYPD officials said.

Rafael Nieves, 85, was hit in front of 584 Grand St. minutes after 1 p.m., FDNY and NYPD officials said. He'd just stopped in at Key Food supermarket, workers there said, and was headed back to his home directly across the street in a building he owned since 1979, property records show.

Nieves was pronounced dead at Bellevue Hospital, police said.

The driver left the scene in the white box truck and there were not any arrests as of Tuesday morning, police said.

"[It was] just chaos, people calling 911," said Sal Occhipinti, 50, owner of a Laundry Taxi, next to Nieves' building. Word soon spread on the block that Nieves was the man who'd been hit and killed.

"Everybody knew him," Occhipinti, a lifelong Williamsburg resident said. "He came out every morning, he'd check on all the stores, walk around like the neighborhood watch dog."

Merchants on the block said Nieves was a man of routine.

He'd go to the supermarket and pick up basics like eggs, bread or milk. He'd head to the Yemendeli Corp. a bodega across the street from his home and buy a copy of the Daily News, lottery tickets or a sandwich.

And he'd stop into La Vega Restaurant, a Latin food joint on Lorimer Street and sit at the same table by the window, gazing out and observing the passing pedestrians, though he never bought any food. 

"[He was] a very good man, very likeable," said Blas Sureal, 56, blinking back tears. Sureal has owned La Vega restaurant for the past two decades and known Nieves for just as long.

Nieves was born in Puerto Rico, though he'd lived in Williamsburg for decades, Sureal said, Before he retired, he worked as a butcher in SoHo and also as a mover.

Nieves rented out the ground floor of his building at 584 Grand St. to Unisex Salon Co., workers there said, though they declined to comment further.

Moments before his death, Nieves had stopped into Key Food, like he did most days, workers said.

Though checkout clerk Jessica Flores, 23 just started working at the supermarket two weeks before, she already recognized Nieves as he popped daily, and was one of her friendliest customers, she said.

She wrung up his items Monday afternoon, though she couldn't recall what he'd bought.

"[He was] regular, 'How you doing. How you been. How's everything,'" she said.

"I guess I feel really hurt cause he was always so nice," she said. "I would never imagine it would have been him."

The NYPD said it was investigating the incident.