2-27-2012 New York:
Probe continues in pedestrian's death at Albany intersection
ALBANY — Saul Rigberg was sitting in a dark theater at the Spectrum 8 Saturday night when his phone rang. His son, Ian Eckardt-Rigberg, was calling to tell him something had happened and he needed help.
When Rigberg got back to his Bethlehem home, his 19-year-old son told him he was involved in an accident, that he hit someone while driving through Arbor Hill, panicked and kept going.
When they spoke with police, officers told them the man Eckardt-Rigberg hit, 53-year-old Rozell Whitehead, had died.
"I'm still trying to understand what happened," said Rigberg, who works as an attorney for the state, when contacted Sunday. "It's an awful, horrendous thing. We're all just really, really sorry."
Exactly how Saturday night's fatal hit-and-run accident near the intersection of Henry Johnson Boulevard and Third Street unfolded is unclear.
Eckardt-Rigberg told his father that he was driving down Henry Johnson when a man began crossing the street in an area not marked by a crosswalk, Rigberg said. He said the man suddenly appeared from behind a parked car and that he had no time to stop.
As of Sunday night, Eckart-Rigberg had not been charged with any crimes and was staying at his parents' home. Because charges have yet to be filed, police would not confirm that Eckart-Rigberg struck Whitehead. But Officer James Miller said charges in the case are pending and that whoever hit Whitehead would at the very least be charged with leaving the scene of a personal injury accident.
The accident occurred at 7:30 p.m. less than a block from the Albany Police Department's North Station and across the street from the city's public safety building.
Whitehead was walking home from a flower shop at which he worked odd jobs for extra cash, according to the store's owner, Mark Carter. After he was hit, Whitehead was rushed to Albany Medical Center Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
"I was upstairs and didn't hear anything," said Carter, who lives in an apartment above his Taysha Florist store at 191 Henry Johnson Blvd., a block from where Whitehead was hit. "I came downstairs and there was all this commotion. Someone said Roy had been hit."
Whitehead had been picking up work at the flower store since his release from prison in 2009. He served a 25-year sentence for the 1984 rape of a woman in Catskill, according to Department of Corrections and Community Supervision records.
According to the state sex offender registry, Whitehead held a young woman against her will and raped her at knifepoint. He was convicted of first-degree rape, sodomy and unlawful imprisonment and served the full term of his sentence, according to DOCCS records.
Whitehead, a level 3 sex offender at the time of his death, also served two years in prison for a 1979 attempted burglary, according to DOCCS records.
His mother, father, and two of his siblings having passed while he was incarcerated, Whitehead moved to Albany after his release to live with his brother, Carter said.
Carter said Whitehead was a changed man, describing him as quiet, simple, hard-working and reliable.
"He was a real laid back, easygoing dude," Carter said. "He was always smoking a cigarette or drinking a cup of coffee."
By midafternoon Sunday, Carter had set up a memorial for Whitehead a few feet from where his friend was killed. He fastened a large floral heart to a street sign with a pink ribbon that read "We'll miss you, Rozell."
When contacted by a reporter Sunday night, Rigberg said he was actively trying to reach Whitehead's family to offer his sympathies.
Saturday's accident isn't the first time Rigberg has been shaken by a fatal crash. His older sister, Miriam, was struck and killed by a taxi in Manhattan in 2000. When his son told him about Saturday's accident, Rigberg said he was wrought by many of the same emotions he felt after his sister died.
"It puts you in shock and it still hasn't really settled in yet," Rigberg said "I just want people to know my son is a good kid. It's something that can happen to anyone. A lot of people make a mistake while driving, but it doesn't usually have such a bad consequence."
Rigberg and his wife, Chris, adopted Ian, who was born in South Korea, when he was a toddler. Rigberg said his wife was in New Jersey for her mother's birthday when Saturday's accident occurred, rushing home to be with the family after finding out the news.
Eckart-Rigberg is a Bethlehem High School graduate who started delivering the Times Union in November after dropping out of college. Rigberg said his son was going to school to for a career in aviation, but had recently changed his mind and was trying to figure out what he wanted to do for a living.
Rigberg said he realizes his son may face serious criminal charges this week, perhaps as soon as Monday. He said his thoughts were with both his family's and Whitehead's.
"It's a horrendous thing; many lives are changed forever," Rigberg said. "I know how they feel. It's a situation you never get over because you never get to say goodbye." ..Source.. by Bryan Fitzgerald