African refugee killed in South Jersey hit-and-run

Posted: March 19, 2013

EZEKIEL Tomboyeke had fled his native Sierra Leone during a civil war that claimed tens of thousands of lives, including family members.

He was able to come to the United States, where he found work, lived among relatives, and felt safe.

But Saturday night, police say, a driver struck Tomboyeke on Pump Branch Road in Winslow Township, Camden County, as he was walking home after work.

He was hit about 11:20 p.m. Township police said the vehicle went partly off the road, struck Tomboyeke and kept going. Tomboyeke, 59, was pronounced dead 30 minutes later at Virtua Berlin.

By Sunday afternoon, investigators said they had located a possible vehicle and driver. The investigation is ongoing.

Dozens of family members gathered at a house on Francis Avenue in nearby Chesilhurst, where Tomboyeke lived with relatives. One brother, with whom he was living in South Jersey, was in Africa and was en route to the village where Tomboyeke's five children live to impart the tragic news, relatives said.

In interviews at the Chesilhurst house Sunday, relatives said Tomboyeke came to the United States in the late 1990s during the civil war in Sierra Leone. After a number of family members were killed or disfigured, he and two brothers came to the United States as part of a refugee program.

6 days a week at UPS

"He would go to work, take care of his responsibilities back in Africa, because a lot of people depended on him," said nephew Alhaji Mustapha. "He just came over here trying to make some money and do the right thing."

Tomboyeke worked six days a week as a package-handler for United Parcel Service, in Lawnside, and sent money to Sierra Leone every month to support his children, who range in age from 8 to 16, family members said. They said he loved to cook and watch African films and was studying for his citizenship exam.

"He had a lot of opportunities over here that he didn't have when he was back there," said Tomboyeke's nephew Josiah Kailie. "He enjoyed it and he liked the culture over here, so he was trying to become American."

Kailie said he and Tomboyeke had talked about traveling back to Africa this year to visit family.

"He was like, 'You gotta go see how beautiful it is.' We planned to go at least around December this year, but now this is happening," Kailie said.

Tomboyeke grew up in a southern province of Sierra Leone with more than 10 siblings.

"It was difficult because everybody is poor," said his brother Francis Tucker, 63, who moved to New Jersey in 1988. "We came from a very poor family. Everybody is fighting for their living to [provide] for their family."

Civil war broke out in Sierra Leone in 1991 and lasted 11 years, claiming more than 50,000 lives.

Tucker said his brother graduated from high school in Sierra Leone and attended a few years of college, but was forced to stop during the war when he could no longer afford the tuition. A few years after arriving in the U.S., Tomboyeke attended a school in California, where he got a license to become a certified nursing assistant.

Tomboyeke did that work briefly, then got a job at Ancora Psychiatric Hospital, in South Jersey. He took the job at UPS about a year ago.

Family members said he was physically fit and usually began his trip to work by walking along a stretch of Pump Branch Road that has no sidewalk and limited space for pedestrians. He would walk to White Horse Pike, where he would catch a bus to Lawnside. They said he was reluctant to ask for a ride, even in bad weather.

"He [didn't] like taking his problem and making it somebody else's problem, so instead of asking you to do for him, he would do for you and never ask you to do for him," Kailie said.

Cellphone in the grass

On Sunday afternoon, a few family members went to the collision site and placed a memorial candle bearing Tomboyeke's photo against a tree.

As they tried to retrace his steps, they found some of his belongings in the brush, including his cellphone, cellphone case and items from his lunch box. A few residents along the busy road came out to offer condolences.

"I saw him walk along the road. He was always nice. He would speak and say hi," said Bob Iuliucci, who lives in a house set back from the road. "He refused to get a ride. He liked to walk."

Iuliucci said cars routinely speed along the two-lane road, which has a 40-mph speed limit. A few months ago, he said, a car went off the road and hit a rock in front of his house.

"They fly up and down here all the time," he said.

Joe Falzarano, who lives about 100 feet from where Tomboyeke likely was hit, said his father tried to get township officials to reduce the speed limit years ago but was told it could not be done because it was a county road.

Falzarano said he sees drivers going above the speed limit there "all the time." He added: "The [driver] should have stopped. I don't know how people can do that."

Tomboyeke's family was at a loss for how a man who looked out for so many could be run down and left to die.

"I can't believe they left him like that, like a dead dog on the road. You can't do that," nephew Alhaji Mustapha said. "Who knows, that split second they could have stopped and helped him out. They could've did CPR, anything. They could've saved him."

"His family is in tears. We're crying for justice," Tomboyeke's sister-in-law Rose Mustapha added. "He was a human being, a good human being."

On Twitter: @ChroniclesofSol


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