The community is mourning Juan Cárdenas, a 2013 graduate of Westhampton Beach High School who died last week, two days after crashing his motorcycle in Shinnecock Hills.
The 19-year-old had purchased the bike, a Kawasaki Ninja, two weeks before his graduation last month with money he saved up from his job as a cook at the Meschutt Beach Hut in Hampton Bays, where he worked for the past three or four years, his family said. Less than a month later, on July 1, motorists on Montauk Highway found the bike on the side of the road, and Mr. Cárdenas injured some distance away.
He suffered head trauma and was originally transported by ambulance to Southampton Hospital before being transferred to the Stony Brook University Medical Center, where he died two days later, on July 3, of his injuries.
Southampton Town Police said there were no witnesses to the accident, which only appears to involve his motorcycle. Owen Ranft, Mr. Cárdenas’s stepfather, said investigators believe his son failed to negotiate a turn along Montauk Highway; he said he did not know where his son was coming from or heading to at the time of the crash.
Mr. Ranft also said his son owns a helmet but does not know if he was wearing it on the night of the crash because police have not yet provided him with the accident report. Investigators have declined to share any details of the accident, stating that it is still under investigation.
Carolina Bronzino, Mr. Cárdenas’s sister, described her brother as a happy kid, with a passion for soccer. He was born in Colombia and moved to New York about three years ago to begin his sophomore year at Westhampton Beach High School. He lived in Center Moriches with his brother, Diego Cárdenas, his mother, Morelya Ranft, and his stepfather.
“He loved it here,” Ms. Bronzino said. “He was really looking forward to going to college. He was going to study aviation mechanics.”
She said her brother loved fixing things—cars or anything around the house for his mother. And when he wasn’t in school or working, he was on the soccer field.
Don O’Brien, who coached Mr. Cárdenas on the Westhampton Beach High School varsity soccer team for four years, described him as a respectful, good-natured young man who was very well-loved by his teachers, friends and teammates.
He was “the ultimate team player,” Mr. O’Brien said. “Can’t say enough good things about him.”
Mr. O’Brien explained that Mr. Cárdenas tore ligaments in his knee halfway through the fall 2012 season, but had he finished, he would have been an All-County player. “That was the beginning of the end of our season—that’s how important he was to our team,” the coach said of Mr. Cárdenas. “He lived for soccer and his teammates.”
Ms. Bronzino said her brother worked hard for months, attending therapy every day, so he could get back on the field. She said he was determined and hard-working. “Anything that he wanted, he always got it himself—without anybody’s help,” she said.
The coach organized a memorial soccer game to honor Mr. Cárdenas on the evening of Wednesday, July 10, at the Westhampton Beach High School, and invited all to join. Mr. Cárdenas’s teammates, school alumni and family members were expected to play in the game, along with players from the Hampton Bays varsity soccer team, who were also close with Mr. Cárdenas.
The players were encouraged to wear a white shirt with the number 10—Mr. Cárdenas’s number—on the back. At the end of the game, the players said they would sign the soccer ball and a jersey and give it to Mr. Cárdenas’s family.
“I was very happy that he had such an impact on a lot of people’s lives,” Ms. Bronzino said.
Mr. O’Brien explained that he and many members of the Westhampton Beach High School community were unable to attend the funeral services that took place over the weekend in Smithtown because information about them was not available, and he wanted to find a way for them to pay their respects and remember their teammate. He said he was hoping for a large turnout to show Mr. Cárdenas’s family how much he was loved and will be missed.
Joe Ogeka, who played soccer and graduated with Mr. Cárdenas last month, described his teammate as “the goofy one,” who loved to have fun and joke around, but was serious on the field when he needed to be. “We were a close-knit team,” he said. “We had a brotherhood bond.”
Mr. Ogeka recalled a game against Islip when Mr. Cárdenas scored his first career hat trick and helped the team secure a win. He celebrated on the field, he said.
Angel Saquic, 18, also a 2013 graduate of Westhampton Beach, said he was close friends with Mr. Cárdenas, having played soccer and gone to school with him for years. He said he and Mr. Cárdenas had a close connection both on and off the soccer field, and he will remember him as a happy person, who always had a smile on his face.
“May he live in the hearts and memories of all his friends,” Mr. Saquic wrote in Spanish in a Facebook post. “In moments and memories that will not be forgotten was a good friend. I’ll miss you man.”
Town Police said that on July 1 at about 10 p.m., motorists on Montauk Highway in Shinnecock Hills reported a downed motorcycle with no driver, and when officers arrived, they located Mr. Cárdenas. He was transported by the Southampton Volunteer Ambulance to Southampton Hospital, and then to Stony Brook University Hospital for further medical attention. Police said Mr. Cárdenas struck a guardrail and utility pole, although they were still investigating the cause of the accident and had no further details.
Town Police Detective Michael Smith said Tuesday that there were no witnesses to the accident, but he would not comment further on the ongoing investigation. Anyone with information is asked to call the Southampton Town Detective Unit at (631) 702-2230. All calls are kept confidential, police said.
Mr. Cárdenas is survived by his father, Javier Cárdenas, of Colombia; his mother, Morelya Ranft, and his stepfather, Owen Ranft, both of Center Moriches; a brother, Diego Cárdenas of Center Moriches; and his sister, Carolina Bronzino of Nesconset.
Services were held on Saturday, July 6, at the Branch Funeral Home in Smithtown, and a funeral mass followed at the Parish of the Holy Cross in Nesconset on the same day. His body was cremated.