Featured Story

Flanders man, 30, who overcame many obstacles remembered for positive, uplifting spirit

Victor Irizarry faced no shortage of challenges in his life. Each time, he emerged stronger.

At 20 years old, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. At around the same time, about nine years ago, his mom died of a rare sarcoma cancer that eventually spread to her pancreas.

Victor underwent chemotherapy to beat the cancer and successfully wound up in remission about three years later. Afterward, though, he struggled with addiction, which he overcame in recent years. He felt a tremendous sense of pride to have come out of a dark path that has affected so many young lives on Long Island. 

“My brother’s a very strong guy,” said Sean Irizarry, 32. “We always said to him he’s battle-worn. It might not have been in the military, but the dude had gone through so much in his life that a normal person shouldn’t have.”

In recent days as he reflected on his brother’s life and heard from friends and family, Sean Irizarry said his younger brother didn’t deserve the fate that befell him. 

On Nov. 9, while working his job for Suffolk Excavating, Victor was removing silt from the bottom of a drainage pipe about 10 feet in the ground. The Flanders man collapsed as a result of apparent carbon monoxide poisoning and later died at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown, according to Suffolk County Police. He was 30.

The residential job site was located in Fort Salonga. A co-worker attempted to go down the pipe to rescue Victor but felt burning in his nose and throat and had to retreat, police said.

The Kings Park Fire Department responded, pulled Victor from the pipe and found dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. 

Mr. Irizarry, 32, said he was finishing his day at work when got a call through Facebook from his brother’s co-workers. He had never gotten a call like that before and assumed it might be some type of virus. Then he saw an accompanying message saying his brother had been in an accident.

He got in his car and raced toward the hospital.

The medical team at St. Catherine had been working to save Victor for nearly two hours, but he ultimately succumbed to the poisoning. 

“The doctor told us after we came in that he had passed,” Mr. Irizarry said.

Victor had worked for the same company for nearly a decade, he said. He mostly worked on installing cesspools. Mr. Irizarry said he hadn’t heard more specific information on exactly how the accident unfolded. Police said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating, as is standard in fatal workplace accidents.

Victor was remembered as always being positive and someone who sought a good time. He enjoyed camping and spending time outdoors with his girlfriend, Stephanie Harroun, with whom he lived. They would often travel to electronic dance music festivals. Mr. Irizarry said that while EDM wasn’t his type of music, he would hear from friends about how the music is about being positive and uplifting — the traits that defined his brother.

Victor and his girlfriend were planning to attend an upcoming EDM festival in Mexico and were working on getting their passports.

Victor enjoyed riding motorcycles and was handy as an at-home mechanic working on cars and bikes, his brother said. 

The brothers mostly grew up in Center Moriches, where they moved when Victor was about 8, and they both graduated from Center Moriches High School. Victor had spent the past few years living in Flanders with his girlfriend. Mr. Irizarry credited Ms. Harroun for being a positive force in his brother’s life and being the person who helped keep him on the right path after his addiction struggles.

Ms. Harroun also helped the brothers reconnect after a falling out. Mr. Irizarry said his fiancee also helped bring them back together.

“The last few years me and him really connected again,” he said. “They really helped us reconnect and we probably had a better relationship in the last two years than we did the last 30 years.”

He last saw his brother about two weeks earlier when they celebrated Ms. Harroun’s birthday. They had planned to meet again this past weekend for dinner.

Instead, family and friends gathered at Robertaccio-Wesche Funeral Center Monday to hold services for Victor. Additional services will be held Tuesday from 5-9 p.m. to celebrate his life. A GoFundMe page set up to cover funeral arrangements quickly amassed more than $17,000, which well beyond the goal Mr. Irizarry had originally set. He said on the page that leftover money will go toward a fund or charity in his brother’s name.

“Everyone kind of came together very quickly and it showed how many people really touched him,” he said.