Chaim Kraus, the six-year-old struck and killed by a car while on the way with his mother to their synagogue in Highland Park on Shabbat afternoon, was remembered by a close family friend as a little “angel.”
“That little boy was always smiling and laughing,” said Chaim Sabo, who lives on the same street in Highland Park as the Kraus family. “He was never upset. You could ask any of his friends. He was always the life of the party, a little pitzele, so small, but with such a love for life and happiness.”
Sabo said his own two sons considered Chaim to be a little brother and are “broken as are we all.”
In the Jan. 16 incident, Ruchie Kraus, 37, Chaim, and his friend were walking on the sidewalk at 3:10 p.m. on their way to a Shabbat children’s program at Agudath Israel of Edison/Highland Park. A car driven by Shang Zhen Huang, 21, of Piscataway jumped the curb near the intersection of Raritan Avenue (Route 27) and Columbia Street in Highland Park and struck them.
Ruchie Kraus was rushed to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick with critical injuries and taken into emergency surgery. As of Jan. 20, she was listed in serious but stable condition, according to the hospital.
Chaim was pronounced dead at 3:39 p.m. at the hospital.
The other boy was uninjured.
Police have determined that Huang was heading north on Raritan Avenue toward Edison, when his 2013 Lexus hit the victims. According to people familiar with the incident, the car hit a concrete container surrounding municipal trash cans with such force that they broke apart.
A joint press release from Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey and Highland Park Police Chief Stephen J. Rizco said Huang, who was treated for minor injuries, had been charged with two counts of aggravated assault. On Jan. 21, the charges were upgraded to include a count of death by auto; he is being held in lieu of $200,000 bail.
Sabo grew up in the same Staten Island neighborhood as Ruchie Kraus.
“I’ve known her since she was a little girl,” he told NJJN, and described their two families as “the closest of friends.”
Chaim, a first-grader at Yeshiva Shaarei Tzion, would often be at his house Friday while Sabo and Chaim’s father, Yisroel Dov Kraus, went to shul.
“I can’t imagine how it is for a mother to sit there and have a child die in her arms,” said Sabo. “She was conscious and knew exactly what was happening.”
Chaim’s aunt, Penina Kraus, in an e-mail to NJJN, said her nephew inherited his father’s big heart and had strength beyond his size and years.
“He likes to surprise people with his love and bring them that extra ounce of joy,” she said, writing in the present tense, “to convey that he has been, is now, and always will be a presence in my life.”
“Whenever I come to visit, when he thinks I least expect it, he barrels into me with the biggest hug. His smiles are wide and plentiful, while his fears are few and far between.
“His father’s pride in him, and his mother’s love shine through in his self-confident, loving, and carefree nature.”
Sabo said that intersection has been a concern for the community for years, and numerous requests to state and municipal authorities to install a light and lower the speed limit from 40 to 25 mph have gone unanswered. Near the spot are the synagogue, Glatt 27 kosher market, Shaarei Tzion’s preschool, Reena Bais Yaakov High School for Girls, and a Montessori school.
“That is the only stretch of road in that area where the speed limit is not 25,” said Sabo. “We’ve begged them, we asked them for a light, a crosswalk, to lower the speed limit — although I honestly don’t know that a light would have helped in this case.”
Attempts to reach Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler for comment were unsuccessful.
Sabo said his wife, Debbie, has taken charge in helping the family. Professionals, including psychologists, have offered the stricken family services free of charge.
“People have been leaving checks of $5 to $250 because they know it’s going to be a long road back, although the family has not asked for help from anybody,” said Sabo. “Unfortunately, they can’t do what this family needs, which is give them their little boy back.”
At least 500 people attended the funeral, held Jan. 17 at Agudath Israel, said Sabo, including Rizco and Mittler. It was held in the early evening after Chaim’s body was released by the county medical examiner. A police escort led the 100-car procession through Highland Park, Edison, North Brunswick, and South Brunswick to Floral Park Cemetery, where arrangements were made for a night burial.
Sabo said the Highland Park Police have been in daily contact with the family, inquiring how they, including Chaim’s three older sisters, are doing.
He described Yisroel Dov and Ruchie as “very simple, caring people, who are always there for the community.”
“Their girls are so sweet, and Chaim, he was their baby, their only son; he was an angel,” said Sabo. “The entire community is in mourning.”