HAVERSTRAW, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – A family was mourning their mother Thursday after police say a man deliberately mowed her down outside a 7-Eleven in Rockland County.
The 32-year-old woman, identified by friends as Melissa DeLoatch, was killed Wednesday night. Her 35-year-old husband and six children, all under the age of 10, were also hit and hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.
Four children remain hospitalized Thursday.
Family members say Sean and Melissa felt they had turned a corner. After time in a shelter with their six children, Melissa had a job and the future looked brighter, reported CBS2’s Tony Aiello.
“It was taken from her. It was taken from their six children. And that’s very unfair,” said her aunt Charlene Rodriguez.
She told Aiello what happened to her niece and family is a nightmare.
The couple and their six children were at a 7-Eleven on North Central Highway in Haverstraw Wednesday at around 2 p.m. when witnesses say the father and a man smoking near the kids exchanged words.
“My co-worker said he was actually yelling ‘Don’t blow smoke in my kids’ face!'” said witness Allison Rodriguez.
Jason Mendez, 35, of Washingtonville, is accused of driving his car into the family of eight after the argument.
“The suspect then got into his vehicle and deliberately, it appears, deliberately took the vehicle the rammed it into these individuals,” said Capt. Martin Lund. “Then, we believe, backed up the vehicle and then subsequently hit the victims again.”
“This is a tragedy. It doesn’t happen very frequently, if at all, in our community,” Lund said.
The captain said when police raced to the scene, the suspect was still in his car but had a knife, so officers had to take him down at gunpoint.
“The officers asked him to put the knife down, he refused to do so, and the officer Tased him and took him down to the ground, and then we took him into custody,” Lund said.
Melissa DeLoatch died from her injuries.
Witnesses told the family she jumped in front of her stroller to protect three children inside.
“Her life was her children. And she did the ultimate sacrifice,” Rodriguez said.
Mendez faces one count of murder and seven counts of attempted murder. He pleaded not guilty and is due back in court next Tuesday.
Sean posted on social media saying the kids were doing OK but he’s devastated by the loss of his wife.
“She was really nice,” one woman told CBS2’s Tony Aiello. “She struggled really bad, but she did what she had to do for her kids.”
The suspect lived for a time in Texas, where his criminal record included a charge for domestic violence, and another for assaulting a public officer, Aiello reported.
“If you could talk to this young man, what would you say?” Aiello asked Rodriguez.
“I’m not going to say that over the media,” she replied.
Rodriguez says the family’s focus is on helping the six little ones, who witnessed a horror and suffered a terrible loss.
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help the family.