Ava Conklin Memorial Vandalized

 Ava Conklin Memorial Vandalized

By Katie McFadden

As if more salt needed to be added to the wound, the memorial set up for the late Ava Conklin, at the site where the 19-year-old girl was killed in June, has been subject to repeated vandalism.

Ava’s father, Matthew Conklin, stops by the site at the corner of Beach 108th and Rockaway Beach Boulevard daily, and has been dismayed by what he’s often found. “I’ve been noticing that things are going missing, people take things or smash them, flowers go missing, garbage is being dumped. We didn’t know what was going on,” he said.

On Monday, March 4, one suspect was caught in the act as a local couple witnessed a black man flip over a box full of candles and vases near the memorial fence, breaking almost every one, before walking away. The couple recorded the man as he walked away, shouting at him, “You’ve got some nerve,” before the man threw a glass bottle at their vehicle.

Conklin did not know what had happened when he made his daily stop at the memorial on Monday afternoon, to find the broken glass, until a woman approached him with the photos and video, as he picked up the pieces. “It’s just disgusting,” Conklin said about the vandalism. “My heart is broken already, and this just adds more to it. This is something we’re doing for my daughter, and I don’t understand why they want to tear it apart. Leave this alone.”

On Monday, Conklin also came across a note stapled to the wooden fencing set up around a garden at the site, saying, “Daniel Sails is a good man, an honest black man, it is so unfair to railroad him just for the need to punish somebody…” It is not clear if the man who flipped the candles left the note.

Daniel Sails is the driver of the vehicle who struck Ava Conklin as she waited for her little sister on June 24, 2023. Conklin died from her injuries. Sails remained at the scene and told police that he had fallen asleep while driving.

Ava’s family was hoping Sails would be hit with a heavy charge for the death of their daughter, but a grand jury declined to indict Sails on a felony. Instead, he was hit with an unclassified misdemeanor charge of reckless driving, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $300 fine in New York, as well as two lower “failure to exercise due care” violations.

A hearing was held on February 20 that was ultimately adjourned. The next hearing is scheduled for April 30. Ava’s family started a petition for District Attorney Melinda Katz to reconsider the grand jury’s decision to not indict Sails on a felony charge. It has gained nearly 9,000 signatures. However, the petition has since been changed to request that a comprehensive drug test be given in any vehicular incident where someone is killed. While Sails was allegedly given a drug test, the Conklin family believes it wasn’t good enough. “’It is our understanding that certain commonly abused substances, including opioids, were not included in the testing protocol,” the petition now reads.

Ava’s family is also working on trying to get Ava’s Law passed, that would require a more comprehensive drug test to be done in similar incidents. “All we’re gonna do is keep fighting and try to change the laws so this doesn’t happen to somebody else,” Conklin said. There are also plans to try to rename the corner for Ava Conklin as a more permanent memorial. “I’m going to fight for my daughter until my last breath comes out of my lungs,” Conklin said.

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