Before an encounter with a rage-filled, gun-toting motorist in the Bronx cut his life short, Fausto Rodriguez spent a joyous day with his beloved co-workers and family.
He spent his day working at the auto body shop he devoted his professional life to, then had dinner with his mother and his girlfriend. And at about 8 p.m., he posted a video of the NYPD and horses on WhatsApp Stories, with a post that read, “Thank you for another day. Today was a great day. Today was perfect.”
Three hours after posting the uplifting message, he was dead.
The 40-year-old road rage victim, who his boss described as a peacemaker and the glue of the mechanic shop he helped run, found himself in an apparently random confrontation that his knack for deescalation couldn’t save him from.
Rodriguez and a pal were on the Cross Bronx Expressway near the Jerome Ave. exit in Morris Heights just before 11 p.m. Friday when their Honda Accord was rear-ended by a Ford Edge, cops said.
Both vehicles pulled over to the shoulder, and the four men inside the Ford jumped out and scattered. Rodriguez called 911 and, minutes later, one of the men in the Ford returned to the scene — riding in a Toyota Rav4 with Florida plates driven by a man who wasn’t involved in the initial collision.
An argument ensued, and the suspect whipped out a gun and shot Rodriguez, cops said.
Rodriguez’s sister Emely described a different version of events, saying her brother wasn’t involved in the crash but showed up to help.
She said he got a call during his family dinner to help because of his mechanic skills, and about a half-hour later he was met with violence because he recorded the aftermath of the crash.
“He was recording what happened between the cars and what we have been told … is that the [people in the] car get upset because he was recording them,” she said.
“He was not doing nothing. He was just there. Like right now, everybody do, if something happen you go record. … He just show up … on the wrong place, the wrong moment.”
The shooter and the getaway driver ditched the Rav4 a short distance away. He has not been caught.
Since the killing, Rodriguez’s friends and family have been trying to come to grips with his death — and the outsized void in their lives.
“We can write a book about Fausto and who he was and … what he meant to us. Fausto was a brother to all of us. We can’t comprehend,” said his boss Boris Alexander, 44.
“He was the centerpiece,” said Alexander, a business consultant at Xtreme Quality, the Mount Eden auto shop where Rodriguez worked as operation manager. “Fausto was kind of the glue that held all of us together. It’s really a huge loss. It’s been devastating.”
Co-workers came in and out of the shop Sunday, lighting candles underneath a memorial photo arrangement.
“He was more than anything and everything to us. He was a great and great and awesome father, son,” his sister Emely told the Daily News at the family’s Mount Eden home as his mother hugged and cried with mourning relatives nearby.
“He was an exceptional human being. Nobody can say nothing wrong about him. Always working. People always come to him in need.”
Born in the Dominican Republic, Rodriguez was the oldest of four siblings. He was also father to four children and raised his girlfriend’s two kids like they were his own, Emely said.
“His kids [were] in police programs and all that, always playing sports and stuff,” she said. “An awesome father always doing whatever he can. He was a father and mother. He was raising kids [on] his own.”
Rodriguez made a habit of posting daily uplifting videos on WhatsApp, usually as soon as he woke up in the morning.
“We have to spread love,” his sister explained. “Every single day he wakes up and the first thing, he records himself and says, ‘No matter what we going through, thank God for this day.’”
Alexander said he watched Rodriguez’s final video countless times before it disappeared from his profile.
“I almost watched it 3,000 times before it faded away. Every day he would post a video that would put a smile in all of us,” Alexander said. “And now he is gone.”
He described Rodriguez as a good-natured man with a calming presence who never spoke ill of anyone.
“Fausto was great at deescalating arguments. Fausto was the one who would go, how can I fix it?” he said.
They last spoke the night of his death, the conversation touching on what to name a kitten that regularly came to the office.
“He had some really funny names, and we laughed very hard,” Alexander recalled. “And I told him, ‘OK, I’ll see you later.’ And I walked out, and that was the last time I saw him.”
His sister said his death has revealed just how loved he was in his community.
“Every single body has something good to say about him. And it’s not because he’s dead, you know?” Emely said. “We are so surprised how many people now are showing respect and saying, ‘Oh, he helped me out with this.’ ‘Oh, he did this.’ We were like, ‘When?’”
The family is now calling for the killer to be brought to justice.
“He was the oldest one. He was the first born. That was my mom’s first love. And they just take him away. They just break our heart,” his sister said. ”They destroy our beautiful family and a great person. They take our everything.”
The victim’s boss echoed that sentiment, though he added, “That is not going to bring my Fausto back.”
“Rather than rage and violence, it’s just an act of stupidity,” Alexander said. “To pull a weapon and shoot somebody that you don’t know … why would you do that? You really have to be stupid and ignorant to do something like that.”
He said he hopes the killer faces a punishment harsh enough to deter others from a similar act.
“The domino effect that they create. The hurt. The people who will never be the same. The amount of hurt,” Alexander said. “I really hope that this loss is not in vain.”
“We would like support from everybody right now,” said Emely, whose family is organizing a fundraiser for the funeral expenses.
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