Homeless Vet Found Dead Nearby CB Bridge
Robert John Ruiz was 59-years-old on Saturday, October 25, the night he died nearby the Cross Bay Bridge on Beach 92 Street.
According to his friends, Ruiz spent a number of those years serving his country in the U.S. Army and was a Vietnam veteran.
That he died is a fact not in contention. Stories of how he died, however, differ depending on who one listens to.
Police say that he died alone, homeless and suffering from exposure, sleeping in the chilled winds coming off Jamaica Bay.
His mother, Glori Delmagro, who lives in Florida, says that he was fishing and suffered a heart attack.
Delmargo, contacted by The Wave at her home in Port Charlotte, said that she had not spoken with her son in some time, although she did know that he was living on the streets of Rockaway and even visited him here on occasion.
For a number of days, however, his friends here in Rockaway did not know that he had a family and how they would be able to have him properly buried.
Juan Vargas, who owns a store that sells Puerto Rican clothing and memorabilia on Beach 88 Street, is one of those friends.
Ruiz often used his spare room during the long winter months, and spent lots of time at his store.
"I really want to see him buried properly," Vargas told The Wave when he came to the newspaper’s office for assistance. "A veteran deserves a proper burial."
Pat Toro, the president of the Queens chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, contacted by The Wave on Tuesday, agrees.
"This guy served his country, and we have to do right by him," Toro said. He then contacted the Army and found that Vargas has a son living nearby. Both Toro and Benjamin Weisbroth, the city’s coordinator of veterans affairs, were involved with the process of finding Ruiz’s next of kin.
"There is a place for all veterans at Calverton National Cemetery," Weisbroth said. "The question is how we are going to get his remains to that place."
Vargas remembers Ruiz fondly.
"Everybody liked him, Ruiz said. "He was very nice and very smart. We couldn’t understand why he didn’t have a military pension that would allow him to live a better life."
While Ruiz lived with Vargas during the coldest part of the winter, Vargas says, "Robert liked to be outside during the warmer months. He didn’t want to be inside when it was nice out."
Vargas added that La Playa Restaurant on Beach 86 Street and others would feed Ruiz and allow him to run up a tab that was probably never paid.
"We are going to miss him," Vargas adds. "Right now, we are focused on getting him a decent funeral, one befitting the veteran that he was."
On Wednesday, however, Toro located Ruiz’s son on Long Island, which led to The Wave contacting his mother. It turns out that Ruiz has three children in the area, two sons and a daughter, but that he seldom saw them and even had grandchildren that he did not know about.
"Robert was homeless by choice," his mother said. "We offered to bring him to Florida and to buy him a boat to live on. He told me that he loved Rockaway and the people, and that he wanted to die there."
"I guess he got his wish," she said, wistfully.