The body of a Riverhead man was found in the woods on county-owned parkland in Riverside last Wednesday.
Cesar Perez’s body was found by a passerby on the wooded parcel east of the McDonald’s at around 4 p.m. on Oct. 3, according to Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki.
A Suffolk Medical Examiner’s Office investigator made a preliminary determination that Perez’s death appears to be the result of suicide, the chief said.
Skrynecki said that the case is under active investigation and have not ruled out any other possibility for the death, but so far he said they had “good, solid evidence that it was a suicide.” He declined to answer questions about Perez’s estimated date of death or any other circumstances surrounding it.
An investigator in the medical examiner’s office told RiverheadLOCAL the suicide was by hanging.
Skrynecki urged residents with direct knowledge to reach the Southampton Town Police detective’s unit with any pertinent information on the case.
“We are aware there are a lot of rumors right now in the community,” Skrynecki said in an interview today. “We want to let everyone know that this case is open and we are investigating.”
One of those rumors was that there was a second death in the area around the same time Perez’s body was found. Skrynecki denied there was a second death and added that Southampton police had checked with Riverhead Town Police to make sure. A spokesperson for Riverhead Town police said they hadn’t heard anything about a second death in that area.
Coworkers and friends of Perez are questioning the suicide determination and are also looking for answers.
The 32-year-old Perez, a long-time resident of Riverhead, was born in Mexico and lived on the East End since he was 11 years old, according to a friend and longtime roommate, who spoke to a reporter on the condition of anonymity.
Perez was employed by Marders — a tree and landscaping company in the Hamptons area — for 13 to 15 years. His main duties consisted of planting and moving trees, at which he excelled, his coworkers said. He was beloved by all, they said.
“He was a hard worker, we could always rely on him to do the best job and not complain and lead by example,” said a coworker.
He attended the Familia de Dios Church located at 400 W. Main Street in Riverhead from 2005 to 2012, another friend said.
Familia de Dios Church co-pastor Daniel Orellana described Perez as a quiet young man who “was completely alone in the U.S.” and whose family in Mexico had “rejected him.”
“He worked a lot and he kept to himself,” Orellana said. “He was very humble and quiet and believed in God.”
Another coworker said Perez’s friends and coworkers expected him to come back to work on Monday Oct. 1, after a week off to complete community service hours in connection with a charge related to a domestic dispute with his ex-roommate.
Perez was living near Main Street in Riverhead at the time of his death, according to his friends, who said he “had a lot of reasons for living.”
Perez’s girlfriend of five months, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she last saw him on the evening of Sunday, Sept. 30 at around 5 p.m. She said she called him multiple times that Sunday night and then Monday and Tuesday and he never answered.
“I was so worried and frightened,” his girlfriend said, her voice breaking. “I thought he had been arrested or deported, but it turned out to be something even worse.”
She said she and Perez had plans to move in together. She described him as a “good, loving man.”
His death has surprised and saddened everyone who knew him, she said. Everyone is searching for answers.
“Right now all I want is to know what happened,” she said. “I am afraid, afraid of not knowing anything and not understanding. I want to feel safe.”
Perez’s former roommate, many years his senior, said she knew him since he was a teen and they had a mother-son relationship. He lived with her from 2005 until Memorial Day this year.
“I want to know what happened and why,” she said. “His death has impacted me greatly.”
The area where Perez’s body was found is a 14-acre parcel purchased by the county for passive recreation uses. The Town of Southampton has committed to developing and maintaining the park, which runs along the south side of the Peconic River, opposite downtown Riverhead. The community is working with town officials to develop a plan for the park, known as the Maritime Trail Park. The Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association obtained a grant from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to fund the design of the park. The firm retained to do the design is scheduled to present an update Monday night at a meeting at the Crohan Center in Flanders.
Local residents have raised concerns about the safety of that parcel and its use as a community park and have requested an increase in police patrols.
“These ideas for parks and trails are wonderful but who is going to maintain and supervise the activity so that they remain safe for all to use,” resident Diane Drevas commented on a story on the park improvement last month.
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