Region's 'car world' mourns loss of man who died in Norwich crash
Norwich — Lining the guardrail of Staples Plaza on Thursday were 81 white candles, each carrying a handwritten message.
Some of the words were smudged, washed away by this week’s rains. But the message radiated: Forever loved, never forgotten.
The memorial stands just feet away from where 35-year-old Ivan Paul died Monday afternoon, the latest victim of a fatal motorcycle wreck.
Police so far have said only that Paul was traveling west on Salem Turnpike when his motorcycle crashed into the side of a box truck. The truck, owned by the University of Connecticut, was in the process of turning left into the plaza.
Photos show the wreck destroyed the bike. Paul was pronounced dead on scene.
According to friend and Norwich resident Mike Ramos, the memorial popped up as an almost automatic reaction to Paul’s death. Paul, who worked at Town Fair Tire, was a car guy. Ramos, who’s employed by Girard Nissan in Groton, is a car guy. So, too, are many other members of the Hispanic community, Paul explained, and in Hispanic culture, white candles are the go-to for meaningful commemorations.
Gathered around the memorial earlier this week, strangers became almost like family, Ramos said.
On Thursday, someone yelled from the window as he drove by: “I love you, Ivan!”
Ramos, 31, had known Paul since about 2009, when Ramos signed on at Town Fair Tire.
“My first impression?” Ramos asked. “I honestly thought he was a rude, ignorant, big bully kind of guy.”
“He has a scary look,” Ramos quickly added.
But first impressions can be a funny thing.
Ramos hadn’t even gotten his first paycheck, yet, when some employees of Town Fair went on a run to Dunkin’ Donuts. Paul, not wanting to leave the new guy out, offered to pick up Ramos' tab.
That generosity, Ramos would learn, was characteristic. An example? Paul would stop to help cars stranded on the roadside, even if he didn’t know who was inside. Even if he was in a hurry.
“He had a heart of gold,” Ramos said.
Early on, Paul began offering Ramos advice on key selling points of cars. Later that turned into advice on life, often offered in tough-love fashion.
“I looked up to him as a mentor, a bigger brother,” Ramos said. “He was mature, even though he was only a few years older than me. He would let me know my problems."
“I respect him for that,” Ramos continued. “It helped me out a lot.”
Over the years, Ramos got to know Paul’s family and vice versa. Sometimes the pair would help each other out of ruts with deep conversation. Other times they’d just hang out in a garage, six-pack nearby, and work on cars.
Ramos said Paul’s immediate family members — a wife of 15 years and four kids — are devastated by the loss.
Speaking by phone, Mildred Paul said she had reluctantly filed for divorce from Ivan Paul in August, but after the two discussed the issues at hand, they decided to try to work things out instead.
Things were just getting back to normal when Ivan Paul died, Mildred Paul said.
"There's not a father figure on earth I have seen that would treat his wife the way he did, that would treat his children the way he did," Mildred Paul said. "He was my best friend."
Devastated, too, is Ramos' daughter.
“When I had to break the news to my daughter — she knows the symbolism of the white candle — she high-pitch squealed, ‘Not uncle Ivan!’ She started crying in the backseat.”
Ramos had been meaning to see Paul, who he last saw in August. They live just a mile apart, but sometimes life gets in the way.
“It was devastating to find out that the one person I’ve been meaning to check up on, I can’t,” he said. “I cried instantly.”
Earlier this month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a report showing fatal car crashes were up across the board in 2016. It singled out motorcycle-involved wrecks as a category that saw a particularly large leap in lethality.
This area is no stranger to such wrecks. In August, a Norwich man died after crashing into a building off Chelsea Harbor Drive.
Less than a week later, crews had to airlift an Old Lyme man who twice struck a guardrail lining Interstate 395 north in Waterford.
On Oct. 21, Ledyard saw "a serious motorcycle crash" on state Route 214 at Whalehead Road.
It was just two days later that Paul died.
Although gossip abounds, circumstances surrounding what led up to the most recent fatal wreck remain unclear.
Ramos was quick to point that out.
“We don’t know if the truck was at fault or if (Paul) was speeding,” Ramos said. “Even if it’s true he was speeding, he didn’t deserve to die. He’s not a bad guy.”
Editor's Note: This version includes information from Mildred Paul, who was married to Ivan Paul for 15 years. The pair was not divorced when Ivan Paul died.
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