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Kin of Chinese man killed in Elmhurst crash denied visa

Jian Guo Shen's wife, who lives in Shanghai with the couple's son and their parents, applied for an entry visa at the U.S. consulate in Shanghai where they live, said Li Tang, an officer in the Chinese consulate's Office for the Protection of Overseas Chinese in New York.

"The family cannot come to see the dead man, (they are) unable to take care of the affairs," Tang said.

The U.S. State Department had no record of a visa application from Shen's wife, Yuexiao Zhang. But Consular Affairs Bureau spokesman Stuart Patt said the overwhelming majority of visa denials for Chinese citizens stem from concerns about their choosing to remain in the more affluent United States rather than return home.

"Without knowing anything about the case, I'm making an educated guess that if she's been denied, that's the case," Patt said.

City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), whose office has been in contact with Shen's wife in Shanghai, called the situation ridiculous, particularly because the woman applied at the behest of the New York City Department.

"Unfortunately, for some insane reason that application for that visa was turned down," Liu said. "The woman just lost her husband and she applied for the visa because the NYPD asked her to come identify his body."

Liu said Zhang would prefer to formally identify Shen's body and then return him for burial, but time is running out. Liu said something must be done with the body, which remains with the city medical examiner by the end of this week.

Shen, 44, died June 7 when an old foundation gave way at the Elmhurst construction site where he was helping to dig a trench, pinning him and two others under six feet of concrete, stone and sand, Fire Department officials said.

The other two workers, whose names were not released, were treated and released at Elmhurst Hospital Medical Center.

If Zhang cannot obtain a visa, a coalition of Chinese immigrant groups will help ensure that at the very least Shen's body receives a proper burial here in the United States. He was slated to be cremated by the end of this week.

"That's an approach that's simply very emotionally damaging for the family and yet it's far more preferable than the family realizing that Mr. Shen's body is buried anonymously in a potters field," Liu said.

A host of federal and local agencies is investigating the accident, a spokesman for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said, but his office has not determined whether it will file criminal charges.

The day of the accident, the city Department of Buildings issued a violation to the owner of the property, Yong Fa Chi, for failing to provide adequate bracing in the trench.

Fa Chi, through his company, Elmhurst-based U.S.A. Heng Tai, had begun working to erect an apartment building on the site at 52nd Avenue and 92nd Street.

The gaping pit dug into the corner property to lay a foundation has since been backfilled, and it was unclear if Fa Chi was going to proceed with the project.

Tang, the Chinese consular official, said many of the details surrounding Shen's arrival and stay in New York were unclear.

"The only thing I know is that he came recently," Tang said. He did not have access to Tang's passport, although it appeared that Tang might have been in the country illegally for as many as four years.

Shen got the $75-per-day construction job just a few days before he died, the Daily News reported.

"The exploitation of day laborers is a real issue," Liu said. "These are people who work very hard and get paid very little and often get put on the most hazardous jobs. The employers because of the way they hire these people -- paying in cash -- are not accountable to anyone."

Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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