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City will demolish Astoria sidewalk memorial

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That is what officials will tell an Astoria family that erected a shrine resembling a burial plot on Ditmars Boulevard in memory of a 10-year-old boy who died last April after an SUV struck him.

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By Matthew Monks

Tombstones belong in graveyards, not on sidewalks.

That is what officials will tell an Astoria family that erected a shrine resembling a burial plot on Ditmars Boulevard in memory of a 10-year-old boy who died last April after an SUV struck him.

If Stefan Trajkovski’s parents do not clear a marble headstone and garden off the corner of 75th Street, the city Department of Transportation will raze the memorial and send the family the bill, said Keith Kalv, a DOT spokesman.

“This is the first I’ve ever seen a memorial like this. It has to be removed,” said Kalv, who pointed out that the site was illegal because it obstructed a nearby bus stop.

But Vensa Trajkovski, Stefan’s mother, said Monday that officials were being “ridiculous” for asking her to remove the shrine, which she said beautified a patch of dirt previously soiled with dog droppings and garbage.

“I’m not gonna move it because that’s where he landed when that man hit him — he flew 97 feet,” Trajkovski said. “That’s where my husband found him dead. I refuse to remove it and it should not be removed.”

The 15-by-8-foot shrine, which spans most of the sidewalk, is landscaped with a fence, wood chips, bushes, and a small statue of a boy holding a baseball bat. A foot-high, shining black headstone, which Trajkovski said took 15 men to lift and cement in the ground, is centered in the spread. Its engraving reads: “In memory of our beloved Stefan Trajkovski, killed at this site on April 18th 2003. He never gave up.”

Just over a year ago, Stefan was riding his bike near his home in Bay Garden houses when a motorist driving a Honda SUV traveling east on Ditmars struck the boy and fled the scene, police said. After six days in a coma, Stefan died on April 18.

The driver, Emmanuel Kanios, 19, of 25-39 80th St., surrendered to police the evening of the accident. He faces 15 years in prison if convicted of second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and fleeing the scene of an accident, said the Queens district attorney. A pretrial hearing was scheduled May 4 in State Supreme Court in Queens.

Stefan’s memorial started as a simple bed of flowers with a photograph and ribbon nailed to the light post near the accident, said Michelle SpaDavecchia, whose property borders the shrine.

It was tasteful, she said. She was shocked when the family fenced the area and planted the bushes and headstone.

“When they had flowers there, it was fine, but a tombstone doesn’t belong there,” she said. “I have to sit in my backyard and look at that tombstone all the time.”

The boy was buried in Macedonia, his family’s homeland. SpaDevecchia speculated that the Ditmars shrine was created as a place nearby where they could mourn.     

“It’s sad, I know,” she said. “But flowers or a tree or a plaque on the ground that wouldn’t be visible would be fine.”

Walking past the site last week, two Astoria residents agreed.

“Well, it’s a little excessive isn’t it?” asked Fedra Petrinas. “This looks like almost a burial here. It’s kind of creepy.”

“If everybody does that, it’s going to be a problem,” added Michael Polymenakos.

It will also be a problem if a pedestrian gets hurt, said Community Board 1 District Manager George Delis.

“If someone trips and falls over there, you’re going to have a lawsuit,” he said, noting that the family, the memorial’s neighbors and New York City could be named in the case.

Several residents and DOT Borough Commissioner Connie Moran have called and complained to him, he said.

“You can’t erect a cemetery on a sidewalk,” Delis said. “We’re sympathetic to the family, but you just can’t do that.”

He called the family last week on behalf of the DOT, telling them the agency would take action if they did not clear the street. A family friend told him it would be cleared over the weekend. On Monday, however, it sat untouched.

So Delis called DOT, told them the news and asked them to save the headstone after they raze the memorial. It is all he can do now, he said.

“I’d hate to see them throw it out,” he said. “I know it’s a sensitive subject.”

Stefan died one year ago Monday, but it feels like yesterday, Trajkovski said.

“We’re all distressed. It has not gotten better. It’s exactly like the same day he was killed,” she said.

She is baffled by people who call the memorial excessive or morbid.

“It’s ridiculous, calling it a graveyard, calling it a cemetery. I’m telling you, people are just heartless these days,” she said. “What you see is what was there before except it’s nice. You don’t have feces. You don’t have garbage.”

City officials should focus on making the area safer rather than erasing a reminder of their negligence, she said. She believes if there were more street lights, signs or traffic signals, her son might still be alive.

She and her husband Zoran plan to apply for a permit to keep the memorial alive. A former City Hall employee, Stefan’s mother said she still has connections downtown.

“I will get a permit,” she said “I will get a permit for that little patch of land there.”

Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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