Hit-and-run kills an American dream in the shadows of Morristown

Victor Josue Padilla Turcios was struck by a hit-and-run driver in Morristown and died 10 days shy of his 24th birthday. Photo courtesy of the family.
Victor Josue Padilla Turcios was struck by a hit-and-run driver in Morristown and died 10 days shy of his 24th birthday. Photo courtesy of the family.
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Victorino Padilla cannot count all the dishes he washed to raise $7,500 for his son’s surreptitious passage from Honduras to the United States six years ago.

Now, the father is struggling to come up with a similar sum to send his son back to Honduras for burial.

Victor Josue Padilla Turcios was struck by a hit-and-run driver on Martin Luther King Avenue in Morristown on June 27, 2018, and died in Morristown Medical Center on July 7, according to authorities.

Victorino Padilla with a picture of his late son, Victor Jr. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Victorino Padilla with a picture of his late son, Victor Jr. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The vehicle — a 1995 black Nissan Altima sedan, according to the father — was found nearby soon after the incident. But the driver has not been apprehended. The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office waited 15 days to ask for the public’s help.

On Friday, a spokesman for Prosecutor Fredric Knapp only would say “it is an active investigation.”

“I really hope they catch the person that committed this crime,” Victorino said, dabbing his eyes with a napkin at the kitchen table of his modest apartment in Morristown. A U.S. flag emblazoned with “United We Stand” hangs on the door.

“I’m still in shock. I can’t believe it happened,” he said.

Speaking in Spanish, translated for Morristown Green by Carlos Sotelo, the grieving father remembered a quiet, hard-working son who would have turned 24 on July 19.

Authorities have released few details of the deadly crash. Victorino said it happened between 10:30 and 11 pm, at the intersection of Abbett Avenue. The collision fractured Victor’s spine in three places and shattered his left leg; he never regained consciousness, the father said.

The victim had eaten out with friends on that Wednesday night and was walking home after another day of landscaping. He worked six- and sometimes seven days a week, sending money back to Honduras to help his mother, brother and sister, said his father.

Victor was 17 and spoke little English when he crossed the U.S. border after a perilous 22-day journey. He enrolled at Morristown High School as a sophomore, working after school as a dishwasher at the Hyatt Morristown.

In his rare spare moments, he played soccer or skateboarded. Soon, he dropped out of school to work full-time.

“He loved to work. He just wanted to work. He always paid his own bills. In the beginning, he was very motivated to go to school. Once he found work, and making money, he focused on that,” Victorino said.

For him, the tragedy is compounded by the hardships he and his son endured to forge a life in the shadows of Morristown’s undocumented diaspora.

‘EVERYONE WANTS TO BE UNITED’

When Victor finally got here from Cumayagua, it was the first time his father had seen his boy in eight years.

REUNITED: Victor and Victorino Padilla. Photo courtesy of the family.
REUNITED: Victor and Victorino Padilla. Photo courtesy of the family.

“I felt like I was beginning to get my family back. Everyone wants to be reunited with family,” said Victorino, remembering the simple pleasure of eating carne asada — grilled steak, Victor’s favorite dish—together.

“There is an emptiness now that no one is going to fill. We’re never going to see that person again.”

Victorino has had a few close calls of his own lately.

Although Morristown’s council this month endorsed a proposal to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, Victorino, a stocky man, relies for now on a recently purchased mountain bike to commute to his restaurant job.

Motorists have injured at least four pedestrians and one cyclist in town since April. Victorino thinks he will buy a helmet.

That he got this far is just short of miraculous.

‘DAD, I WANT TO HELP YOU SUCCEED’

Victorino toiled for years in the fields of Honduras to scrape together $5,500 for his month-long journey to the United States in 2003.

In Mexico, he gasped for air in a dump truck piled with a hundred other migrants, he said. His hands turned purple, “almost like when you are in water.”

He crossed the Rio Grande in a tire tube on Aug. 3, 2003, then slogged through a lagoon. A pickup truck on the other side took him at night to McAllen, Texas. A 32-hour trek through the desert ensued.

His shoes filled with sand. His fingers “were just a big ball of blood.” He remembers drinking from a livestock well, and sleeping in wet clothes on the hard ground.

“At times, you would cry…and you would regret ever starting this trajectory,” Victorino said.

“For your kids, for your family, you would risk your life. But I would never try that again, unless you can come here legally. I would never go through that again.”

He said it was even harder for his son, who came here the same way.

Victor Josue Padilla Turcios. Photo courtesy of his family.
Victor Josue Padilla Turcios. Photo courtesy of his family.

Although Victor was a teenager at the time, “older people had to carry him many times,” and he despaired for his life, said the father.

Yet his son was eager to take the chance.

“He took the decision to come here. He said, ‘No, Dad, I want to help you succeed and help our family back here succeed.”

‘LEAVE, OR WE WILL KILL YOUR WHOLE FAMILY’

In May, the Trump administration signaled an end to temporary protected status granted by the U.S. to 86,000 Hondurans after a 1999 earthquake devastated their country. But life remains desperate there, Victorino said.

“The situation in Honduras is very bad. There is no work, and a lot of gangs. The gangs have taken over neighborhoods. They take your house and say, ‘You have 10 days to leave, or we will kill your whole family.’

“To work, you must pay a ‘war tax’ to the gangs. The day that you don’t have your tax, it’s your day,” Victorino said.

A service for Victor was held at St. Margaret’s Church in Morristown this week. In Honduras, he is mourned by his mother, Gladys Esperanza Turcios Lopez; a sister, Cindy Paola Padilla Turcios, 26, and a brother, Elvis Javier Padilla Turcios, 17.

Alison Argueta, a rising freshman at Morristown High School, started a GoFundMe campaign to help Victorino send Victor’s body back to Honduras.

“I know they don’t have tons of money… I tried to help. It’s something I could contribute,” said Argueta, 14, whose mom works at George’s Deli, where Victor was a regular customer.

“He was a very humble kid,” said deli employee Sandra Lopez.

About $1,100 had been raised as of the weekend.

Victorino cannot risk going to the funeral. The U.S. almost certainly would bar his return here afterward. He and his son have sacrificed too much to let that happen.

READ THIS STORY IN SPANISH/

LEA ESTA HISTORIA EN ESPAÑOL

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4 COMMENTS

  1. “The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office waited 15 days to ask for the public’s help.”

    Really sending a message about how much value they place on justice for this young man through their inaction.

  2. Ignorant? That is an understatement. The “rich” person was driving a 1995 Nissan. Did Rc even read the article?

  3. Probably a rich person or politician that committed the hit and run, otherwise they would have arrested the person already!
    And if the victim was born here the prosecutor would have probably acted faster to catch the driver!

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