No longer a stranger
Family sheds light on woman killed in Flanders
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"She became quite a colorful character," one of her daughters, Stella Arbelaez of California, said this week. "She would wear these neon vests and while the ambulances would try to pass Roosevelt Avenue, she would stand in the road with a whistle, spread her arms to the side and stop traffic so the emergency vehicles could get by.
"She would stand out there on call, as needed."
And her killer remains at large.
According to police and relatives, Ms. Tascon, 71, was living in Flanders temporarily, tending to an ailing family friend, when she was mowed down by a hit-and-run driver Nov. 22 at the intersection of Flanders Road and Cypress Avenue.
"One of the things, for me, that is so tragically ironic," said Ms. Arbelaez' husband, James Brown, "is that she fought traffic for 15 years, being literally inches from all types of cars and trucks as a street vendor. Then she goes out to an isolated area of Long Island and gets gunned down by a single car.
"We just want whoever did this to come forward and face the music and clear their name and move on," Mr. Brown said. "Otherwise, they'll have to live with it the rest of their lives."
To commemorate Ms. Tascon's life and death, family and friends from Flanders, Queens and Long Island gathered Sunday morning under steady rain to retrace her final moments.
Carrying flowers, candles, ribbons and photographs, some 35 people met about 11:30 a.m. at the place where Ms. Tascon was killed and then walked to the Flanders Riverside Volunteer Ambulance station on nearby Evergreen Road, where her body had been immediately transported after the accident.
"My goal was to make it known that she was here," Ms. Arbelaez said of the vigil. "This wasn't just an unknown person. Her body was claimed. Her body was loved. I didn't want her life to go unknown."
Ms. Arbelaez and her siblings also said that they hoped the emotional outpouring might compel anyone with information on who killed their mother to contact Southampton Police detectives.
The children are especially motivated because their father, a graduate of Yale University, was killed in Colombia some 20 years ago.
Like their mother's, his death also goes unsolved.
"We're on a mission now," Ms. Arbelaez said, adding that she lost another sister to cancer some 10 years back.
According to her family, Ms. Tascon married at 27 after rising to the top of an insurance agency in Colombia -- unheard of for a woman at that time. She later moved to New Haven, Conn., where her husband was pursuing a doctorate in public health.
After he graduated, the couple ran a medical laboratory in Colombia. But she later moved to Queens, with two daughters in tow, to make a better living.
Her husband was making plans to work in a lab in Connecticut when he was killed in Colombia in 1988, leaving Ms. Tascon to care for four children, all of whom later graduated from college, and one of whom also went through medical school, family members said.
Ms. Tascon supported her family first by driving a taxi and working in a spaghetti factory, and later by selling her homemade cookies.
"Her joy was to see people happy and to help people," said Ms. Arbelaez, a cartoonist and Fashion Institute of Technology graduate. "About two years ago, she was given a plaque from the Colombia Civic Center as a citizen of the year because she was involved in helping new Colombian immigrants find jobs, apartments, clothes. She would also send used clothes and such to Colombia.
"She had a very, very large heart. And she was very proud both to be Colombian and American. Oh, when she became a citizen, she was just so thrilled," her daughter said.
Although Sunday's vigil helped the healing process for Ms. Arbeleaz, her younger sister, Carolina Arbelaez of Pennsylvania, emphasized that peace for the family will not be achieved until the hit-and-run driver is captured.
"We always speak to our advanced judicial system in the U.S. and due process," Carolina Arbelaez said. "I can't fathom the fact that the people who killed my father went uncaught and justice was never served. To have the same thing happen here I feel is completely unacceptable and incomprehensible.
"There is no real reason for that to happen in such a small town... where everybody knows everything about everybody," she continued. "It is just not OK. It is not OK for a community to just let things go. At some point, the people that live in that community need to take ownership of the good and the bad and really start to make a difference."
But the family is grateful for the condolences and words of support they have received from some residents here.
Ms. Arbelaez said it was important that she and others who attended the vigil Saturday visited the ambulance station on Sunday.
"The volunteers who were there were the first ones who came to my mother's aid," she said. "It was very important to us to thank them because not only were they with her, but they were volunteers, and so was my mother.
"A volunteer paramedic on her way home found her body and called 911," she continued. "She told us our mother did not die alone.
"She died in her arms."
Police have so far been unable to locate any witnesses to the Flanders crash. Anyone who might have any information that could help in the investigation or lead to an arrest is urged to call the police department at 728-5000 or the tips hotline at 728-3454.
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