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Jun 11, 2019 5:40 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

No Arrest Yet In What Police Are Investigating As A Murder In Montauk

Police officers and detectives were on the scene at Kirk Park on Thursday after a 38-year-old man was found unconscious in Montauk. He has been confirmed dead by Suffolk County Police Homicide Squad detectives. Detectives believe the cause of death to be criminal in nature and are investigating the death as a murder.  KYRIL BROMLEY
Jun 11, 2019 5:40 PM

As of late Tuesday afternoon, police had not yet made an arrest in connection with last week’s murder of Robert Casado, a 38-year-old known as “Panda,” who worked at Bliss Kitchen and Mickey’s Lawnscapes in Montauk.

At the same time, his father, Benny Garces, who also lives in Montauk, was making plans for a funeral service on Wednesday, June 12, scheduled for 4 to 8 p.m. at the Yardley and Pino Funeral Home in East Hampton.

Shortly after Mr. Casado was found unconscious in Kirk Park, on the outskirts of downtown Montauk and bordering Fort Pond, on Thursday morning, June 6, he succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.

Suffolk County Police Department homicide detectives who are handling the investigation have said they are investigating his death as a murder.

Mr. Casado, who was discovered shortly before 7:30 a.m. by two people who were walking on a trail in Kirk Park, “suffered from what appears to be blunt force trauma to the head,” said a statement from East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo issued the afternoon of the day the assault took place.

It is believed that Mr. Casado was attacked between 7 and 7:30 a.m., said Suffolk County Police Detective Lieutenant Kevin Beyrer, chief of the county’s homicide squad.

Mr. Casado, who had roots in the Dominican Republic, had been living between Montauk and New York City over the last 15 years or so, according to Javier Abreu, who worked with him in landscaping for about two years. Mr. Casado recently began working on weekends and nights as a cook at Bliss Kitchen on Main Street, the restaurant’s owner, Jennifer Meadows, said on Monday.

She said he was walking to his other job on the morning of his death, however. Mr. Abreu said Mr. Casado would typically walk from his home near the Montauk IGA through Kirk Park to reach his workplace on North Shore Road.

“He was a very nice and happy person. Hard worker,” Mr. Abreu said through Facebook on Tuesday. “I still don’t believe what happened to him, because he didn’t deserve what they did to him.”

Mr. Abreu added that he hopes the police arrest whoever attacked Mr. Casado, and soon. “I can’t tell you more [because] the police are processing all info,” he said.

According to Ms. Meadows, Mr. Casado started working at Bliss Kitchen officially a few weeks ago, although his girlfriend, who could not be reached for comment and whom Ms. Meadows declined to name, had been working there for a few years. The owner of Bliss Kitchen said she could not recall a day when she didn’t see Mr. Casado at the restaurant, as he would come in for his morning coffee and breakfast before work. Ms. Meadows said he would usually come back after his job and help his girlfriend clean up.

“Robert was friendly, energetic and extremely helpful,” Ms. Meadows said in a text message on Monday. “We relied on his keen ability to jump in right where he was needed. He is deeply missed.

“He was kind of a fixture there,” she added. “He always helped, chatted with me and the staff, and looked out for us.”

Jose Garces of East Hampton, who is Mr. Casado’s brother, said that Mr. Casado had five children, three in Montauk and two in the Dominican Republic. The oldest child is 15, while the others are 10 years old and younger, he said.

On Friday, Jack Perna, the Montauk School superintendent, said, “We do have some family members here and are dealing with the tragedy,” without saying if any of the family members were Mr. Casado’s children.

Members of the East Hampton Town Police Department Dive Team were searching Fort Pond for a weapon on Friday, according to Det. Lt. Beyrer, but no weapon was recovered.

According to Det. Lt. Beyrer, Mr. Casado was still alive when the ambulance arrived at Kirk Park at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, but he was unresponsive and unable to speak.

He said on Monday afternoon that police had not yet determined a motive for the attack and that the investigation was ongoing. On Tuesday afternoon, the Homicide Squad’s public information desk said it could not provide information about whether detectives had any suspects or leads.

Suffolk County Command Officials from the Office of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner have been working to determine Mr. Casado’s exact cause of death, including the type of weapon that was used, Det. Lt. Beyrer said.

Montauk Fire Department Chief David J. Ryan confirmed on Thursday that the fire department received the call regarding an “unresponsive male on the Kirk Park trail” at 7:24 a.m. East Hampton Town Police responded to the park at approximately 7:30 a.m., and the Montauk ambulance took Mr. Casado to the hospital.

Mr. Ryan added that on Thursday morning, detectives investigating the incident had been interviewing paramedics and EMTs who responded to the scene. The park, and part of Second House Road, were blocked off with yellow crime scene tape Thursday morning, and sections of the park remained blocked off on Friday as detectives and police were still on the scene.

Det. Lt. Beyrer said on Thursday that police do not believe it was a random attack. But Chief Sarlo said in his statement on Thursday that the attack was not believed to be a bias crime or related to gang activity.

When asked on Tuesday, Former East Hampton Town Police Chief Eddie Ecker, who grew up in Montauk, said he could not remember a previous murder in the hamlet.

On Friday morning, the day after the murder, business in Montauk seemed largely to be going on as usual. Folks were grabbing coffee at 7-Eleven, cyclists were cruising, and Maureen Rutkowski of John’s Drive-In was watering the grass in front of the eatery, which she owns with her husband, Dave. Ms. Rutkowski expressed condolences for the victim and his family, and expressed shock for such an incident to happen in broad daylight.

In fact, she said, the Montauk School’s fifth- and sixth-graders had boarded a bus outside Kirk Park on Thursday at around 7 a.m. to catch a Mets game at Citi Field at around noon in Queens.

A handful of chefs and kitchen staff who were walking through downtown Montauk on Friday morning to do prep work at the Harvest on Fort Pond said they knew Mr. Casado as “Panda,” and that he would often walk the Kirk Park trail on his way to work.

On Saturday morning, Juan David, a longtime Montauk resident, graduate of East Hampton High School, and a friend of Mr. Casado and his family, said, “He’d give the shirt off his back.”

He added that Mr. Casado worked as a landscaper most of the time, and that he was a family man.

“Whoever took his life, took away from Montauk and the community itself,” Mr. David continued. “He was a good man, plain and simple.”

A GoFundMe page has been created by Michael Nenner, general manager of Gurney’s Inn, to cover funeral costs. Mr. Nenner could not be reached this week, and neither could Benny Garces, Mr. Casado’s father and a longtime employee of Gurney’s Inn.

According to the GoFundMe page, Mr. Garces and his family are making plans for a memorial service at Yardley and Pino in East Hampton on Wednesday, June 12, from 4 to 8 p.m. and will then send Mr. Casado’s body back to the Dominican Republic for a funeral this weekend.

As of Tuesday afternoon, $5,295 had been raised toward a $7,500 goal.

Detectives are asking anyone with information about the incident to call the Homicide Squad at 631-852-6392 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220 TIPS. All calls will be kept confidential.

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