By Ron Leir
NORTH ARLINGTON –
It was her day off – Tuesday –and Barbara Gangi kept to her set routine.
Shortly before 6:30 a.m., Gangi dropped off her wash in front of the Riverside Laundry and started walking across River Road to the Arlington Diner, her home away from home, for a light breakfast.
This particular Tuesday, March 18, however, she never got to the diner because she was fatally struck by a car.
North Arlington Police Chief Louis Ghione said the mishap occurred as the vehicle, traveling south on River Road, hit the 73-year-old woman as she was crossing westbound, about 100 yards north of the Belleville Ave. intersection.
Gangi was taken to Clara Maass Medical Center, Belleville, where she was pronounced dead, Ghione said.
At the time of the accident, the traffic light at the intersection was green for southbound traffic on River Road, Ghione said. It was still dark and, based on an interpretation of the facts as known to investigators, “we don’t believe the driver was speeding,” he said.
An investigation of the accident was undertaken by the NAPD, in conjunction with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office Fatal Accident Unit and Bergen County Sheriff’s BCI. As of last week, no charges had been filed against the driver.
Ghione said he knew the victim. “Sometimes, I would drive her to work,” he added.
At the Arlington Diner – where Gangi worked as a waitress for the past three decades – manager Nick Dontas brushed away tears when he was asked about his silver-haired former employee last week.
“Tuesday was her day off but she comes here for coffee and a bagel and to do her laundry [across the street],” Dontas said. “But this time she didn’t make it. … Wrong time, wrong place.”
“To me,” he said, “she was like my mother. She was always calm, never got mad. … If on a weekend I was short [of wait staff], I could call her. Barbara would always say, ‘Sure, I’ll be there.’ She only lived five, six blocks away. A lady friend used to drive her. Or she took a taxi.”
Kristina Snyder, a waitress who’s been at the diner for two years, recalled that it was an obliging Gangi “who got me settled in.”
“She had so many regulars here,” Snyder said. “All the customers said, ‘I want to sit with Barbara.’ ’’
Across River Road, at the Riverside Laundromat, the owner’s spouse Jong Choi said that Gangi had been coming to the business “almost 10 years” as a bi-weekly ritual.
Gangi would deposit her bags of clothes at the laundry’s front door a half-hour before opening and walk to the diner for her light meal before returning to start the wash cycle, Choi said.
“But when I came in and put on the lights [last Tuesday], I wait but I didn’t see her,” Choi said.
“So sad.” “She was angel,” said Choi. “After she put in her wash, she tell me, ‘You want hot coffee?’ She go across the street for me. Everybody here loves her.”
Councilman Joseph Bianchi, who knew the waitress through his hair salon shop, called Gangi “a wonderful, hard-working lady. After work, she came home and took care of her family, a daughter and granddaughter.”
“Every Saturday afternoon, I’d see her when she came to get her hair done,” Bianchi said last Thursday. “We had a fundraiser for her today. [With her passing] it’s going to be tough for the kids.”
Mayor Peter Massa, who said he knew Gangi “a long time,” found her death “very upsetting. She was always polite, very friendly.”
“I spoke to her the day before [the accident] at the diner,” the mayor recalled. “It was St. Paddy’s Day, you know, and she asked me where was my green.” Massa said Gangi cared deeply for her family and put in a lot of time and attention in their care.
“She was loved by all,” said Bianchi. “She died tragically.”
Gangi’s funeral was scheduled for last Friday from the Polaris Funeral, North Arlington, with the repast provided by the Arlington Diner.