On November 22, a dank, dark evening, Western Connecticut State University (WestConn) student Dong Lin, 19, of Brookfield, Dong was left unconscious and bleeding in the street while the driver fled the scene. The first-year student was rushed to Danbury Hospital where he succumbed to his injuries and passed, leaving the family with many unanswered questions as they mourned the loss of their only son.
Dong had lived in Brookfield with his family — mother, father and six-year-old sister — for over 14 years, working with his parents, aunt, uncle and cousins at the family restaurant, Main Moon near Four Corners on Federal Road.
“He was a very nice kid who loved his family,” cousin Angie Zheng said during an interview with the family earlier this week. “He was always working at the restaurant or helping watch his little sister when he wasn’t at school. He was a quiet guy — nice and humble.”
Dong worked part-time at the restaurant to pay for classes and was thinking of majoring in business, though he had yet to choose a degree program.
“He was taking classes in business but had not decided on a major; he was going to decide what kind of business after he got out of college,” said his mother, Qiu. Though when he was young his “dream was to find dinosaurs,” she said.
“He didn’t drink, smoke or anything like that,” she said, he stayed home to watch his sister while his parents worked, and enjoyed playing games online.
The family has been paralyzed by their loss, with Qiu, 41, unable to go to work through the pain.
“My mother has had to take over for her permanently,” said Zheng, who helped translate during the interview. “She’s [Qiu] not physically, mentally able to work.”
, but the family is still left with questions as they try to understand the sudden tragedy that torn down their world.
“We just want to ask the driver — who is about the same age — how come he didn’t stop, how come he didn’t brake,” Qiu said.
A Dark, Rainy Night
Dong had stopped by campus earlier that day to meet with a math teacher, then took the bus home to relax for awhile before returning for his 5:30 p.m. class.
He got on a bus back to Danbury around 4:30 and arrived at class only to discover that the professor had canceled the lecture that evening. Dong left the school and walked back to the bus stop, down the road from the main campus where there were no crosswalks or lights. Unfortunately, as he found when called the bus company, there were no routes that would be coming by again soon. So, with a cold drizzle beating down on him, Dong called his father, Chun Shi Lin, to come and pick him up.
As Lin drove down White Street to pick up his son, police vehicles had already blocked off the roadway preventing him from getting through. The father called his son’s cell phone repeatedly, getting more worried each time as it went to voicemail. Then, an unfamiliar voice picked up the phone.
Lin, 44, who speaks little English, was only able to understand one word the voice was saying to him: police. Lin had his niece, Zheng, call Dong’s phone again and speak with the officers, who informed her that her cousin had been hit by a car and was taken to the hospital.
According to eyewitness reports and what has been reconstructed since the incident, Dong was crossing White Street near Hoffman Fuels (170 White Street) back toward campus, near White Hall. He walked across the first lane, but as he passed the halfway mark in the road, an oncoming car, , hit him.
The driver continued on without stopping, leading to a six-day search that ended when the 22-year-old WestConn student turned himself over to police on Monday, November 28.
“He knew he hit Dong and he just took off, he didn’t even hit the brake,” Lin said. “He told the police he was panicking, but he was only thinking of himself.”
“He didn’t even stop to see how he was,” Qiu said solemnly, visibly holding herself together as she spoke about her only son. “Even if it was an accident, the point is that the driver did not stop for one minute.”
The driver, a student with enough credits to make him a fifth-year senior, turned himself in at Danbury police headquarters on Monday with his attorney and is “cooperating with the investigation,” Capt. Thomas Wendel said Wednesday.
With the suspect’s help, police discovered the vehicle at his off-campus residence, a student-housing complex on Chestnut Street, right around the corner from the main campus.
Police are seeking to arrest the driver, Wendel said, however it could be several weeks before a warrant is issued.
“This person is not a threat to society,” Wendel said, despite this singular incident, and police are doing their due diligence before conducting an official arrest.
Qiu said she wants justice for her son, which for her would mean jail time for the driver.
“It’s up to the judge to decide how long,” she said, “But our son passed away because of the driver and he is free to do whatever he wants. Suddenly this young man [Dong] just passed away, something permanently took him away from his family,” while the driver continues to live his life.
“I don’t believe that the driver feels bad,” Qiu said, “He would have stopped… at least have a thought about how injured he was, the injured guy lying there in the road, in the rain, and he just drove away.”
According to reports, the front bumper of the car struck Dong on his right side and propelled him into the air. He landed on the windshield, cracking his skull and causing significant bleeding in his brain. Dong was unconscious when the ambulance arrived to rush him to the hospital, where he died three hours later.
“If he was going the speed limit the injuries would not have been that bad,” Zheng said, as the force had to be strong enough to throw her cousin in the air. “He knows the roads,” she asserted of the driver, as he lives around the corner and has been attending WestConn for several years, “He knows that road and didn’t care about the people walking by.”
Zheng said by the time the family reached the hospital, Dong was unconscious and showing signs that he would not recover.
“He was basically dead as soon as he was hit,” she said. “Only his heart was still beating.”
The family is also left wondering why their son did not know that class had been canceled that evening. They were told that the professor had emailed students to inform them that class was canceled, however Dong did not receive the message.
“We’re angry that the school didn’t tell us” that class was canceled, Qiu said. “If he found out there was no school earlier he would not have gone back.”
The family has asked that the university forward them a copy of the email to prove it was sent out, just for the peace of mind.
Qiu said they contacted the Dean of Students, who said he would look into whether the email was sent, but so far they have not received any answer.
“It wouldn’t bother us as much if we knew,” she said.
The professor did send out a message to the students through the university email addresses, Director of University Relations Paul Steinmetz said Wednesday, though he could not release the name of the professor or the class that Dong was taking.
According to sources with the university, Dong, a first-year student, may not have activated his university account and may not have received the email. The university was unable to confirm that explanation and family members were unsure of whether Dong actually used his school account.
“We just want more information,” Zheng said. “Hopefully we can get justice for Dong.”
The family will be holding a funeral for their son on Thursday in Brooklyn, NY, and he will be buried near their extended family and friends in a cemetery in New Jersey.