NEW ROCHELLE, NY — Hector Morales, 52, was murdered in New Rochelle this past August. Married and a father of three, Morales was brutally beaten, robbed and left for dead by three men who jumped him near the Centre Avenue Bridge as he was coming home from dinner at the Olibar restaurant at 583 Main Street.
While the police await a report from the New York City Medical Examiner, his case is classified by the New Rochelle Police Department as “assault and robbery” not a homicide. Either way, Morales is dead and is family is in mourning.
As he lay by the side of the road, having been unconscious for hours, he was able to raise his arm just enough to catch the attention of a passing NRPD patrol car responding to an unrelated harassment complaint.
Taken to Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, Morales passed in and out of consciousness over the next several weeks, enduring numerous painful injuries and undergoing several operations before slipping into a coma. He succumbed to his injuries over the Labor Day weekend.
Blanca Morales is a successful businesswoman. She took over her husband Hector’s landscaping business after he injured his back several years ago and built a thriving business. She was previously recognized as Businesswomen of the Year by the Bellas Artes Business Council Of New Rochelle.
She is deeply concerned for the safety of West End residents..
“That corner is dark, the street lights are off, the area at the corner is overgrown,” said Morales, referrring to a small section of land off I-95 owned by the State of New York.
She believes the men who killed her husband lay in wait for him in the bushes as he crossed the Centre Avenue Bridge and then came up behind him under the cover of darkness.
A recent visit to the scene shows the street lights are now working and the bushes have been cut back.
Morales wants more done, including more police surveillance cameras in the area.
“I don’t want any family to go through what we have been through,” she said.
Tears fell from her eyes as she recounted how her son hugged his father’s casket at the funeral.
She played a video of the burial service, heavily attended by grief-stricken friends and family.
A mariachi band played music.
“He loved to sing,” she said.
As he lay in the hospital, near death for weeks, Hector Morales was able to communicate with his wife before he died but was not able to provide much information about what happened in the early hours of October 14th.
Police detectives came to the hospital several times to interview Morales but were turned away by doctors who said he was in no condition to be interviewed by police.
Morales’ credit card records indicated he paid for dinner to Olibar on August 13th. The restaurant closes at 10 p.m. He was found by police some time after 2:30 a.m.
The credit card records show his killers used his credit cards to make several purchases totaling just under $1,000 including Dominos Pizza, Uber, Footlocker.com, and FlightClub.com, a company that bills itself as “the most trusted source for buying and selling the most rare and coveted sneakers”. The charges were reversed after Blanca Morales reported the cards stolen.
Unconscious and without ID, Hector Morales was classified as a “John Doe” for a good part of the day after being admitted to Jacobi.
A copy of the police report, obtained by Talk of the Sound from the family, shows that the police officer who found Morales described him as disoriented.
Morales first told police he left Olibar at 11 p.m. but could not be sure, did not know where he was attacked, how he ended up where police found him but vaguely recalled being hit from behind. He told police two wallets had been stolen with $40 cash, a mobile phone and a wrist watch.
Residents said there have been at least 10 similar strong-arm robberies at the same location near Grove Street and Warren Street over the past year.
Reached for comment on the reported rash of strong-arm robberies in that area, New Rochelle Police Captain Robert Gazzola said, “I can confirm that there have been three reported robberies this year in the general area of Grove and Centre Avenues.”
He confirmed the Morales case was one of them.
“In one incident, on August 14th, the victim was beaten and taken to a Bronx Hospital where he was admitted. At some point during the Labor Day weekend, he died.”
As to the cause of death, Gazzola said “The information we have is that in addition to his injuries from the robbery/assault, he suffered from a medical condition. At this point we are waiting the results from the NYC Medical Examiner’s Office for an official cause of death.”
Asked for police records Gazzola said they could not be released to the public.
“The robbery investigations remain open and active, so are not available at this time.”
The family believe the broken ribs, smashed jaw, several broken teeth, a hematoma, and a lower lip split open two inches down to his chin — all the result of being struck from behind, knocked face first onto sidewalk pavement, then repeatedly kicked and punched as he lay helpless on the ground— are the cause of death not a “prior medical condition”.
The police have assigned their top homicide detectives to the case.
A victim of a near-identical assault, an employee of a New Rochelle construction supply company, was beaten so badly he ended up in a coma. It is not clear if this victim is among the three acknowledged by Gazzola.
Victims have described their assailants as three young black males. In Morales case, his assailants fled South along Grove Street. Later on the day of the assault, police were contacted by a man who found Morales’ wallet in the bushes two blocks down the street in front of 85 Grove Avenue.
Blanca Morales, Hector’s wife, alternates between anger, despair and fierce determination as she recounts what happened to her husband. She is deeply concerned for her three children.
She is especially unhappy with what she believes is a lack of concern by the City of New Rochelle over what happened to her husband. She knows this is not the first time a man was murdered and the police offered an alternative explanation to the family.
On March 28, 2015 Juan Mendoza-Torres, 23, a Mexican man who had moved to New Rochelle two months prior, was murdered, savagely beaten by three men inside the since-closed Agave Azul restaurant. For two months family members complained that the police department was attributing Mendoza-Torres’ death on alcohol poisoning. By the time the New York City Medical Examiner conducted an autopsy and determined he had a brain hemorrhage as the result of blunt force trauma the three perpetrators, also Mexican, had fled back to their home country. The murder remains “unsolved”.
West End residents tell Talk of the Sound there have been many such murders over the years.
New York State Crimestoppers announced Thursday they are offering a $2,500 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the persons responsible for the “assault and robbery” of Hector Morales. Anyone with information can call New York State Crimestoppers at 1-866-313-TIPS or the New Rochelle Police Department at 914-654-2270.
New York State Crime Stoppers continues to offer another reward of up to $2,500 for information that directly leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the death of Mr. Manuel Ayala.
On August 6, 2016 at approximately 11:00 P.M., Manuel Ayala, a 79 year old male was sitting in front of 238 Union Avenue, when he was struck by a gunshot that seemed to be fired at random at a crowd of people that were in front of a bodega where Mr. Ayala was sitting. The victim was taken to the hospital where he died. This murder also remains “unsolved”.