By Karen Zautyk | Senior Correspondent
Horseplay turned deadly last week for an 18-year-old Kearny youth who was killed when he fell off the trunk of a car driven by a friend on Highland Ave., police reported.
According to the KPD, the victim, Mark Burke, had apparently been riding on the trunk of a Nissan operated by David Orjuela, also 18, that was traveling north on Highland at about 2:15 p.m. last Wednesday.
As the car came to a stop, about 100 yards north of Wilson Ave., Burke tumbled off , striking his head on the pavement.
He was pronounced dead at 3:07 p.m. in the emergency room at University Hospital in Newark.
Police said Orjuela reportedly did not initially know the other teen was on the trunk, and he slowed and stopped when he saw Burke there.
Compounding the tragedy is the fact that Burke and Orjuela were best friends and their families lived in the same two-family home on Wilson Ave., just around the corner from the accident site.
On Thursday afternoon, scores of other friends were gathered in front of that house to console each other and remember the victim, a Kearny High School senior who was due to graduate in June.
One of the mourners, Johnny, 18, said, “I never saw him without a smile. He made everybody laugh.” A 16-year-old named Ashley said, “He was a really good kid. He was a guy you could go to whenever you had a problem.”
And on Burke’s Facebook page, the tributes included this from a friend named Vanessa, who wrote, “You’re with the angels high above in the clouds shining down at all of us . . . . You’re in God’s arms, you’re an angel.”
Dr. Cynthia Baumgartner, KHS principal, said that “the first thing” Burke’s mother said to her after his death was: “He loved school. He said all the teachers inspired him.”
Baumgartner, who arranged for grief counseling at the high school on Thursday, said of the victim, “He was a kid with goals.” (Burke had planned to be a nutritionist and physical therapist and volunteered his time at West Hudson Hospital.)
“It is just a tragedy for the school,” Baumgartner said. “It’s a terrible loss.”
A funeral Mass for Burke was offered Monday in St. Cecilia’s Church.
The accident is under investigation, and as of press time, no charges had been filed.
“It’s in the hands of the Hudson County prosecutor,” a KPD spokesman said Monday. “We sent everything over to them.”