NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — In front of their proud families, hundreds of students became alumni of York College on Friday. But one empty seat did not go unnoticed.
In April, 22-year-old Vanessa Raghubar was driving on the Van Wyck Expressway with her sister and sister’s boyfriend when, police say, an off-duty NYPD officer, Neville Smith, crashed into them, killing Raghubar and seriously injuring her sister. Prosecutors say Smith refused a Breathalyzer test but allege he was drunk.
On Friday, Raghubar’s brother, Michael, accepted her diploma at York College in Jamaica, Queens.
“I’m proud of her accomplishment, and I hope she was there, that she could have collected this award for herself,” he said.
Their sister, Maria, watched from a wheelchair in the crowd. She was supposed to cross the stage in Vanessa’s absence, but among the gleeful graduates, she found it too much to bear.
Her family said as painful as Friday was, it was their duty to attend the graduation.
“We want people to know, to see how you can snatch a person’s life away from them in a split second by not being cautious,” said Nadira Nandlall, Raghubar’s cousin.
York College President Marcia Keizs remembered Raghubar for her diligence as much as her kindness.
“She was a shining light,” Keizs said. “Her faculty members who knew her well spoke fondly of her.”
Four days after Raghubar died, she was supposed to interview at Nassau Community College, where she wanted to continue her education and one day become a doctor.
“She was waiting for this day to come so much,” Raghubar’s aunt, Esther Mongul, said, crying. “And she wasn’t here to receive it.”
Smith has been suspended by the NYPD and charged with vehicular manslaughter and negligent homicide. He is due back in court June 16.