In the cool air nine days after Justin Bellini was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver, the candles still burned in his memory, among the many icons of his life left near the pylon of the elevated portion the Hudson Bergen Light Rail on Avenue E, from the baseball jersey he wore as part of Bayonne Little League to the New York Yankees jacket he wore as an adult.
Still-fresh roses and other flowers stood around his photograph along with bottles of his favorite beer, a package of cigars, a half-gallon of milk, and even a new baseball tribute to a sport he loved. Each item bore some significance to his life and memories cherished by some of those who knew him best.
Poster boards filled with photographs of him from every stage of life are tied to the cold stone alongside a poster filled with the handwritten remembrances from friends and family who could not believe he had died.
“I really can’t believe it is true,” said Brooke in one, recalling middle of the night talks he’d had with a group of them. “Miss you forever.”
“Bro, you are the man,” wrote Cucu. “You grew on me like a brother.”
“Everything you said to me made me laugh, always brightened the room,” said another written by Kaydee.
“He had an amazing smile.” – Ronald Hughes
“He had an amazing smile,” said Ronald Hughes, who was among the many people who knew him from around Bayonne.
His memory even overshadowed this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, where messages were written on the rear windows of several cars that took part in the event, a parade that passed within sight of the Avenue memorial, as if the whole event took place in his honor. For some, it did.
The one pervading memory of Justin that Police Chief Ralph Scianni has is of the smiling kid he coached years ago.
“He had a great smile,” Scianni said, vowing to make certain that the person who struck and killed the 22-year-old Bellini on March 9 is brought to justice.
Justice for his killer
“We’re on this 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Scianni said. “We’re determined to find out who is responsible.”
Bellini was hit by a vehicle at about 4:30 a.m. near 25th Street and Broadway, according to the police report, and was pronounced dead at Jersey City Medical Center about an hour-and-a-half later.
Scianni said Police Capt. Walter Rogers and Sgt. Juan Betancour have been assigned to the case, although it is possible that the driver was unaware that he or she had struck Bellini.
The investigation includes gathering of tapes from various area surveillance cameras.
“He was a great kid and had a wonderful smile,” Scianni said, echoing statements of Bellini’s friends who set up a memorial on Avenue E, near where Bellini’s best friend John Santopietro had died as a result being a struck on his motorcycle almost exactly a year earlier.
Bellini’s girlfriend Brittney Wasielewski and her brother were among those who gathered near one of the pylons to the elevated section of the Hudson Bergen Light Rail line along Avenue E to pay tribute to Bellini. Several of those paying tribute said it was sad but fitting that Bellini and Santopietro should share the same short stretch of roadway.
“You were literally the best brother I could ever ask for. You always went above and beyond to make everyone happy,” wrote Maddie. “There was never a dull moment when you were around. You were always making me smile and laugh. There will never be an easy day without you here with us. I love you forever and just love that you’re in paradise now and I’m sure that you’re making the best of every moment the way you did with us. You always taught me to smile and be strong and I will be, just for you.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.