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Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Home News Tribune | Pike crash ends life of dancer

Home News Tribune | Pike crash ends life of dancer

Pike crash ends life of dancer


Published in the Home News Tribune 6/08/04
By MICHELLE SAHN
and JONATHAN TAMARI
STAFF WRITERS
NEW BRUNSWICK: Marcos Portesgil worked at a dry cleaner and sent a portion of his paycheck home to his mother in Oaxaca, Mexico.

He was a young man with big dreams who wanted to return to school in his native country so he could become a dance teacher, said his brother.

But Portesgil, 23, of Somerset, was killed Sunday night in a motor-vehicle crash on the New Jersey Turnpike in Woodbridge when the car in which he was a passenger veered out of control and overturned, according to family members and police.

The driver of the car, Rigoberto Rivera Vasquez, 22, of Raleigh, N.C., was charged with driving while intoxicated, New Jersey State Police said.

Portesgil's family and friends gathered in his brother's apartment in New Brunswick yesterday to mourn the young man who danced with a local Mexican folkloric dance troupe and sang in a local band.

Portesgil, his 16-year-old sister, Dora Izabell Zafra, and Vasquez were headed to a restaurant in Elizabeth when the crash occurred in the northbound lanes of the Turnpike around 7:20 p.m. Sunday, according to his family.

Vasquez was driving a 1987 BMW 325 in the left car lane when he cut back into the center lane and hit the rear of a 1999 Ford Explorer, police said.

The BMW continued to the right, eventually slamming into the end of a break in the barrier between the car and truck lanes, police said.

Portesgil, who according to a friend was not wearing a seat belt, was thrown from the car and landed on the left shoulder of the truck lanes.

The car came to a stop in the right shoulder of the car lanes, police said.

There were no injuries reported to anyone in the Explorer.

Zafra, of Somerset, and Vasquez were each treated and released at Raritan Bay Medical Center in Perth Amboy. State police yesterday said the accident victim's name was Marcos P. Gill, but family members identified him as Portesgil.

When his friends learned of the crash, they headed to his brother's apartment on George Street in New Brunswick, filing in until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. yesterday to offer condolences to the family.

They brought flowers and helped set up a memorial altar. Three blue vases were lined up on the floor in front of a table, covered with a neatly pressed white cloth. Framed photos of Portesgil sat atop the table, along with burning white votive candles and palms fastened into the shape of a cross.

His brother, Elias Portesgil, 25, and two sobbing sisters, Lucy Zafra, 20, and Dora, 16, sat together on a small couch. The sisters, dressed in black, hugged each other while they cried, and family friends sat in chairs that lined two walls of the small front room, wiping away tears.

Jorge Soto, 24, of New Brunswick said Marcos Portesgil loved his family.

Marcos Portesgil lived in the United States for about two years, said his brother, most recently in Somerset with his younger sister, Dora. Another brother and sister, 17-year-old twins, live with their mother in Mexico.

The 23-year-old sent money home to their mother so she could fix up her house, said his brother.

He also danced with Xochipilli, a local Mexican folkloric dance troupe that has performed throughout the state, and sang in a local band, Nuevo Sol (New Sun), performing at area weddings, parties and quiceaneras (birthday parties for Latino girls who are turning 15, similar to a Sweet Sixteen party.)'

"He sang. He danced. He taught dance," said his brother.

Victor Cortez, the artistic director of Xochipilli, described Marcos Portesgil as a good young man, who was always happy and often joked around with the other dancers. He said his friend never touched drugs or alcohol.

Whenever Xochipilli performed for students at Roosevelt School, where Cortez works as an assistant teacher, Marcos Portesgil was among the dancers on the stage. He also danced with the group at the New Brunswick Public Library.

So, yesterday, the community came together for his family.

School and library staff members made individual contributions to the family to help pay for the cost of sending his body back to Mexico for burial.

Librarian Monica Eppinger said the library staff got to know the dancers because of their many appearances there. They danced most recently for Cinco de Mayo celebrations, but they also performed every November as part of the library's Hispanic Heritage Month observance, she said.

"It's just a sad story," she said.

At Milano French Cleaners in Monmouth Junction, where Marcos Portesgil worked for about a year, his boss -- who would only give his first name, Al -- said the young man was "really into his dance (group.)"

"He was a terrific kid," said Al. "He was a very good kid, believe me. It was a terrible tragedy."

Family members said services will be handled by Anderson Funeral Home in New Brunswick, although arrangements had not yet been set yesterday evening.

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