Still Grieving, Still Seeking Answers
DRACUT -- There are traces of Julio Rivera-Lucena in the home he shared with his girlfriend. His clothes remain in the closet, the plaques and trophies he earned from competing in pool in the living room.
There’s the heart-shaped gold necklace Julio -- or Tony as he was called by his girlfriend, Christine Patterson -- gave her. Its front reads “I Love You” and its back, “LOVERS APART BUT ALWAYS TOGETHER.” Christine, 48, never takes off her necklace unless she has to. On Thursday afternoon, she wore small hoop earrings that belonged to Tony. It’s been impossible for her to let go.
“I was his everything and I know that if he could have come back, he would have because he loved me that much,” Christine said as her voice shook with grief. “I know that.”
For nearly a year, Christine and her family say they have struggled to make sense of what happened to Tony. He died on Feb. 12 at Tufts Medical Center, two weeks after being struck by a vehicle in Dracut.
The Puerto Rico native with a warm demeanor was 56.
According to Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, he was struck while walking in the area of 77 Bouchard Ave. around 6:45 p.m. on Jan. 30.
The female driver pulled over immediately after striking Tony with her Audi crossover SUV. A Bouchard Avenue resident, and witness to the accident aftermath, said he saw the victim lying on the side of the road, unconscious, and suffering from abrasions to his head and face.
Tony was flown to Tufts by MedFlight helicopter.
“I need answers,” Christine said from her kitchen table on Thursday. “I hit roadblocks wherever I go. I don’t know what happened.”
Christine’s sister, Stacey Patterson, says she loved Tony like a brother.
“Someone needs to be held accountable. We have puzzle piece of him hit, we have puzzle piece of what happened that night. We know what the weather was like, we know what happened with the doctors. We know all of this,” Stacey, 42, says. “Why is there no accountability?”
No charges have been filed and the investigation into the crash remains open and ongoing, according to Elizabeth Vlock, a spokeswoman for the DA’s office.
“Currently we are awaiting the completion of outside reports,” Vlock wrote in an email Friday.
Dracut Police Chief Peter Bartlett on Friday said he spoke to the Massachusetts State Police and was told the report on the crash isn’t complete yet but that they’re working on finalizing it within the next couple of weeks.
“Any crash that results in a loss of life is a tragedy and we make every effort to try and do our best to bring closure to the family as best we can,” Bartlett said. “We understand that families are grieving and it’s difficult, especially this time of year.”
The State Police’s Office of Media Relations did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment.
They met in the fall of 2012. Tony, a self-employed landscaper, was a volunteer at the Lowell shelter where Christine worked. They’d make small talk before he’d spend time with the Spanish speakers at the shelter.
Christine, a widow whose husband committed suicide in 2011, was not ready to date. Tony, she said, was divorced. She said he kept his eye on her for over a year and, in May 2014, they went on their first date. Christine recalled feeling nervous when she started catching feelings for Tony, but she let her guard down. A relationship blossomed.
“We’re older. I guess when you’re older, you have baggage and you know you do. It’s not like your 20s when you’re inexperienced,” she recalled. “We both have had life experience so I think we really kind of knew what we wanted and we were just happy together. Why wait?”
The couple enjoyed playing pool at Thirsty’s Bar & Grill in Tyngsboro. Tony was a “pool shark” who dreamt of someday competing in big pool tournaments in Las Vegas, Christine said. They raised their dogs together and Tony brought Christine to Puerto Rico to meet his family. They talked about marriage.
Now, Christine has frequent nightmares. She takes medicine to help her sleep. Tears welled up in her eyes Thursday when she recalled seeing Tony in his hospital bed at Tufts. He was hooked to machines, mostly unresponsive. She expected him to come out of this.
“This man could do anything,” Christine said. “He was as strong as an ox, so for me to have to see him like that, it was just too much.”
Tony was later taken off life support.
According to his obituary, Tony was born in Camuy, Puerto Rico, on July 4, 1961. He is survived by his sister and stepdaughter and her children, and many nieces and nephews.
“We had four good years together and I was lucky to have him in my life,” Christine said.
For now, the family will continue to wait.
“He loved my daughter and she loved him. He loved everybody,” said Cindy Patterson, Christine and Stacey’s mother. “It’s going to be a very difficult holiday without him.”
Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.