Ozone Park honors Rita Persaud after alleged killer's arrest – Queens Chronicle

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Updated: September 29, 2021 @ 2:33 am
Democratic District Leader Richard David, front left, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz, front center, and Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, second from right, gather with members of Rita Persaud’s religious community to honor her memory.

Democratic District Leader Richard David, front left, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz, front center, and Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, second from right, gather with members of Rita Persaud’s religious community to honor her memory.
After a nine-month investigation, the suspected driver who allegedly fled the scene after killing Indo-Caribbean vocalist and Ozone Park resident Ritawantee “Rita” Persaud in a hit-and-run that shook the Queens Hindu community has been charged.
Police announced that they had arrested 23-year-old Cypress Hills resident Jason Liriano Thursday in connection with the incident. On Sunday, Assembymember Jenifer Rajkumar (D-Woodhaven) organized a press conference with District Attorney Melinda Katz and various other civic and religious leaders to honor Persaud and publicize the news of the case, which had drawn rallies from advocates demanding the NYPD’s attention last winter.
“Thank you to the police for being an ally of the Indo-American community for working with us, protecting us, informing us. I am grateful for the strong relationship the NYPD has with our South Asian and Indo-Caribbean community,” Rajkumar said.
That same day, members of Persaud’s family and religious community held a separate vigil in Richmond Hill. When several members of her Hindu temple, Shanti Bhavan Mandir, arrived at the press conference, they raised some outstanding questions they had about the case that had not been publicly answered yet.
“I feel there should be more said about who the other occupants of that vehicle were,” said a woman who identified herself as a member of Persaud’s religious community. “I don’t think we know the full story.”
Persaud, 54, was taking an Uber ride in a black Toyota Camry last Christmas Eve when her vehicle was hit by a man with a passenger driving a Lamborghini SUV at Rockaway Boulevard and 103rd Avenue at approximately 7:05 p.m.
The Lamborghini driver fled the scene on foot. 
Though his passenger remained at the crash site, and the NYPD later confirmed it was able to track down surveillance footage of the scene in December, the police were not able to make an immediate arrest under persistent pressure from elected officials, religious leaders and Indo-Caribbean advocates.
“It’s important to note that the justice system sometimes takes a while to move, but the evidence has to be there, the facts have to be there,” said Katz at the Sunday press conference.
On Friday, Katz announced that Liriano had been arraigned on a four-count indictment charging him with criminally negligent homicide, leaving the scene of an incident without reporting, aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in the second degree and driving in excess of the maximum speed limit.
At the press conference, Katz made a broader point about car violence, taking specific aim at unlicensed driving — one of the charges that Liriano is facing.
“Driving in the communities in Queens County has become more dangerous and become more reckless,” said Katz. “Having a license is not a suggestion, it’s the law.”
In Rajkumar’s initial statement on the arrest, she shed light on a more grave aspect of Liliano’s history, noting that he is a “suspected gang member with a long rap sheet.” Over the past year, Lirian’s arrest record also includes attempted murder in the second degree, criminal possession of a weapon, criminal possession of stolen property, according to the NYPD. He was in jail for attempted murder when the investigation led officers to arrest him in connection to the fatal accident based on DNA, a law enforcement source told the Chronicle.
Kwang Choi, the detective from the NYPD’s Highway Division in charge of the investigation, attended Sunday’s event, although a spokesperson from the NYPD’s public information office told the Chronicle that he was not authorized to speak to the media about the details of the investigation.
“My job as an investigator with the NYPD is trying to get the family the most amount of closure. I’m glad there was justice brought,” Kwang said.
Beyond providing an update on the case, the event gave members of the Hindu community a chance to share memories of Persaud, who became well-known for her devotional singing and her work teaching music to young people. 
International dancer Zaman, an Indo-Caribbean LGBTQ rights activist and friend of Persaud’s, called her a vibrant individual with a profound influence on the community’s youngsters.
“She was one of those individuals who taught me the life lesson of balance — being able to be cultured and being in a community representing our Indo-Caribbean people, and showing how rich our culture is,” Zaman said.
“She was a kind-hearted person who shared her life. Her life was made up of helping people,” another member of her mandir told the Chronicle.
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