CJ Hackett, only 16, was killed by an alleged drunk driver in Yonkers last week. His untimely death has shocked his family and friends throughout New York; his 46-year-old alleged killer has been charged with leaving the scene of a crime
Christopher Jack “CJ” Hackett, a “perfect” 16-year-old who aspired to be a doctor and was immersed in the Irish Catskills community of East Durham, New York, was killed by an alleged drunk driver in Yonkers who left the scene in the early hours of Wednesday, August 3 and is now being held on $250,000 cash bail.
The Irish American teen, son of Yvonne Hackett, a native of Co Leitrim, and Christopher Hackett, whose parents Anne and Michael are from Co Carlow, was killed on McLean Avenue, not far from his mother’s home, where he was riding an electric scooter just after midnight on August 3.
Stephen Dolan, 46, an employee of the City of Yonkers Department of Public Works, has been charged with leaving the scene of an incident with a fatality without reporting, which is a felony. Police believe Dolan was consuming alcohol before the accident and was under the influence of intoxicants.
CJ, a student at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains who was due to start his junior year next month, died at Jacobi Medical Center on August 4, and his parents made the decision to donate his organs.
The shock of losing CJ at such a young age has rocked his already stricken family to the core – on June 24 of this year, CJ’s paternal uncle Joseph, a member of the Army National Guard who lived in West Nyack, New York, died suddenly at the age of 56. Joseph Hackett’s family discovered he was dead when he didn’t attend his son’s high school graduation on the same day.
Bernadette Gavin Palmieri, owner of Gavin’s Irish Country Inn and Nellie’s in East Durham, told the Irish Voice, sister publication to IrishCentral, that CJ was a valued summer employee who was loved by customers and fellow staff members.
“CJ started working for us when he turned 14. He was a phenomenal waiter. I’m finding his loss very difficult because I see him everywhere,” Gavin Palmieri said.
CJ split his time between his dad’s base in East Durham and his mother’s home in Yonkers. In addition to his parents and grandmothers Anne Hackett and Peggy Horan, he is survived by his younger siblings Leilea and Harry, who are friends with Gavin Palmieri’s children and attend Irish dance classes together.
Joseph Hackett’s post-memorial gathering took place at Nellie’s in East Durham, a restaurant/pub that Gavin Palmieri and her husband Brian purchased and refurbished in the past year. CJ was deeply upset by his uncle’s death but was determined to keep working.
“I remember telling CJ to take time off after his uncle passed, and to return whenever he felt ready,” Gavin Palmieri recalled.
“CJ told me that he had never seen his dad so sad. But he wanted to come back to work that night at Gavin’s and that’s what he did.”
Summers in East Durham have been tough since the pandemic, with many businesses struggling to stay afloat. CJ, Gavin Palmieri says, was a superb annual seasonal worker who took his job seriously and had a bright future on the horizon.
“He was an amazing kid. Perfect in every way. I remember him saying at some point he wanted to be a doctor,” Gavin Palmieri recalls.
“He never drank, didn’t smoke, he was just a young man that you would 100 percent be proud to call your own.
“Everyone in Gavin’s is crying over CJ’s death. We will miss him so much. He was in charge of so many things. It is hard to believe he is gone, especially as he was working at Gavin’s two days before he was killed.”
Gavinstock, the annual summer music festival hosted at Gavin’s which is set for August 12-14, will be dedicated to CJ’s memory this year. Commemorative t-shirts will be sold, with proceeds going towards an Archbishop Stepinac scholarship in his name.
Gavinstock Schedule for this weekend is below: Free admission on Friday. Saturday and Sunday is $20 (cash only) at the...Posted by Gavins Irish Country Inn on Tuesday, August 9, 2022
On Thursday, August 11, a wake for CJ will take place at Pelham Funeral Home in Westchester from 2-8 pm. Father Brendan Fitzgerald will preside over his funeral Mass on Friday, August 12 at St. Barnabas Church in Woodlawn. CJ will be laid to rest at Winston Cemetery in East Durham.
“When it came to academics and good grades Christopher excelled. He was a self-starter. When his homework was complete you could find him playing basketball, pulling wheelies on his bicycle, or hanging out with his sister Leilea and brother Harry. His summers were spent with his dad in the Catskill mountains shooting skeet, sitting around campfires with his family and riding his dirt bike,” CJ’s obituary said in part.
“Christopher will be remembered as a kind, loving and honest soul. He was a loyal friend to those who knew him. He was the best kid any parent could ask for.”
CJ’s father Christopher gave a brief statement to News 12 Westchester on Saturday which said, “His eminence Cardinal Dolan called me yesterday to say he was praying for us. Today, my incredible son will be giving his organs. They call it a Walk of Honor. I would expect nothing less for such a sweet, wonderful son.”
*This column first appeared in the August 10 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.