£42k raised for US hit-and-run victim 'a tribute to the lives he touched'
The family of a young Northern Ireland man killed by a hit-and-run driver in New York say they are astonished after more than £40,000 was donated in a matter of hours to bring his body home.
Kevin Bell (26) was killed in the early hours of Sunday in the city's Bronx area.
The talented GAA player and champion Irish dancer from Newry, Co Down, died instantly when struck by a vehicle which then left the scene.
Following the tragedy, Mr Bell's friends announced a range of fundraisers to pay for his repatriation which costs in the region of £15,000.
At the first fundraiser, a quiz and auction night held in a Newry hotel on Tuesday evening, £42,000 was donated.
Mr Bell's father Collie admitted he was amazed by the total raised.
"We, the Bell family, are humbled by the kindness and generosity of people," he said.
"We are so grateful to all those who are organising events and fundraisers to support us in this terrible time."
Mr Bell's body returned to Northern Ireland yesterday ahead of his funeral this Saturday.
Collie Bell said all extra money raised will go towards good causes.
"We would like it to be known that we intend to continue to fundraise in the future, in Kevin's name, and that all surplus money will be used to help families who are visited by similar tragedies; we know that Kevin will not be the last."
One of the organisers of Tuesday's fundraiser and close friend of Mr Bell, Grace O'Reilly, said the response since his death has been "overwhelming".
"This is a true testament to the many lives he touched in his short time here," she said.
"He would have been in his element sitting amongst them, he would have loved it."
Mr Bell's flat-mate in New York, Benny Doyle, said they had been out together in a bar hours before the tragedy when Mr Bell decided to go home alone by taxi.
"He said he had to go and he left," said Mr Doyle. "We were back here about 3am and he wasn't home.
"At half past three we checked again, he still wasn't home."
Mr Bell loved New York and hoped to remain there, friends said.
He moved to America from Killeavy in Newry last August and was working in the construction trade.
Mr Bell had been a butcher in William Baird's in Newry before leaving for New York.
A past pupil of Cloughogue Primary School and Abbey Grammar School, he was heavily involved in GAA and local musical groups.
A 5km walk and 10km run will take place around the Greenbank Industrial Estate tonight with other events planned in coming days.
Details of the run are available on Facebook events Repatriation Run, or from Paddy Duffy on Paddy.firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 07714855290.
STORY SO FAR
Kevin Bell was struck by a hit-and-run driver in New York at around 3.30am on Sunday. Police are continuing to study CCTV images to try to identify the driver of the vehicle. Friends of Mr Bell arranged fundraising events to cover the £15,000 needed to return his body home. However, almost three times that amount was raised in just a few hours.