Heartbroken family and friends recently gathered together to celebrate the life of the man whose family values and ethics were beyond reproach.
"He had a high expectation of himself, and it was fantastic," said Tony LoPrinzi, postmaster of the Ridgewood Post Office. "He was a dedicated employee. You don't find that kind of work ethic anymore. He was a guy I didn't have to worry about."
"He was always trying to make everybody laugh or smile, but when the tough got going, he was always there," said Victor Cruz, 18, Cruz's eldest son.
Cruz, a husband and father of three, was praised by friends and family alike for his jovial and kindhearted nature. They all agree that it would be difficult to find anyone who would have something negative to say about their favorite mailman.
"He was the same every day," said Jerome White, postal carrier and long time friend. "You could go to him for advice, he always had a kind word, and always had a solution to a problem. 'I got you,' that was his phrase, if he wanted to tease you. He will be sorely missed."
Immigrated in 1981
Born June 3, 1960 in San Salvador, El Salvador, Cruz first came to the United States in 1981, where his father and brother had already settled in 1970. After settling himself in the states he returned to El Salvador to marry his longtime love, Maria, and bring her back with him. Cruz and his wife, who worked at the U.S. Post Office in Kearny, had been together since the age of 15.
"They were both a team from 15 until now," said Victor. "Now she lost a part of that team, and I'm trying to fill in that spot as much as I can."
After 20 years as a mechanic, Cruz took and passed the postal service examination in 1998. He immediately went to the work for the Ridgewood Post Office, where he was well liked and respected among his colleagues and customers.
"He wanted to clear his route, get out there, and take care of his extended family [which were the customers]," said LoPrinzi. "The old carriers they were committed to their route, and Julio had that same makeup. It's a shame."
The morning of the accident, North Jersey was being bombarded by wind gusts of more than 50 m.p.h., bringing down limbs and power lines throughout the Bergen County area. At around 11:40 a.m. Cruz had pulled up to the stop sign at an intersection when the tree came crashing down on to the front end of his mail truck.
The first postal worker at the scene of the accident was Jerome White, Cruz's colleague and good friend of six years.
"He was a good person, an all around good person, and I miss him," said White. "We had a spot where I met him everyday, and I look for him everyday. I look for him to come out on that street."
White had only been two blocks away at the time of the accident, and as soon as he heard the sirens, rushed to see what had happened.
"Normally I don't pay attention to sirens, but I heard that horn sound for emergency personnel and I felt different," said White. "I immediately left my route, and it took me to him."
White, who was getting choked up, remembered the last time he saw his friend that morning at the office.
"I had a hand-off from my route to his route," said White. "I told him give them their mail, and I'll see you later.
That was the last time we spoke, and it hurts, it really hurts."
Midland Park police and medical personnel pronounced Cruz dead at the scene. After an autopsy, doctors confirmed that Cruz's death was due to quick trauma to the brain or neck.
The maple tree, which was on the property owned by The Urology Group, 4 Godwin Ave., had been assessed as rotted and hollow inside.
"The tree was rotted quite severely in the center," said Det. Lt. John B. Casson, Midland Park Police Department. "Everything is concluded on our end with a few odds and ends we finished this week."
The Cruz family had always been a strong family unit that had a concrete foundation within each other. A family of best friends, the devastating loss has been extremely hard for his wife, oldest son Victor, and youngest children Stephanie Cruz, 14, and Julio O. Cruz, 10.
Victor, who was attending college in California, was on his way home from work when he found out about his father.
"My mother told me that he had gotten into an accident and that he was in a coma," said Victor. "She told me to come home."
Victor immediately tried to get on the next possible flight home, feeling that there was more going on than what he was being told. Finally being unable to calm his uncertainties, Victor called the Ridgewood Post Office, where they inadvertently told him that he was dead.
"I found out in the worst way possible, but it was something I needed to know," said Victor.
On his five hour flight home, he wrote a letter about his father after the initial shock and grief had subsided. It was later passed out at the funeral.
"I got a lot out by writing things down, and thinking about him," said Victor.
Victor remembered how just a week ago he was speaking to his father about needing a car to get around. Although living with his grandmother, Victor was for the most part alone in California going to school, and working two jobs to support himself. Falling upon some hard times, he did not want to worry his family and work things out on his own, but the car was something Cruz wanted to help his son with.
About a week before the accident, Cruz went to a friend's auto body shop and bought an old beat-up car to fix. Having worked almost 20 years in auto mechanics, Cruz was determined to refurbish the car, which would be his last gift to his son.
"He was determined to finish it," said Victor. "That was one thing I'm proud of; he got to finish something for me."
That was just one of many memories that came flooding back to Victor - his father's good humor, his work ethic, and his strong commitment to his family. Cruz had always supported his son, including his decision to study in California. They were best friends.
"I'm just grateful for every moment I spent with him," said Victor, who spoke to his father the night before. "I was talking to him the night before about car insurance, and I was able to tell him 'I love you' before I hung up the phone."
Throughout the whole ordeal, Victor has provided overwhelming support for his family, especially consoling his mother and younger siblings. Victor has made it a point to grieve on his own time, and stay strong for his family. The day of the wake, family, friends and colleagues packed the Jorge Rivera Funeral Home in North Bergen as they came to pay their last respects. Postal carriers came from as far out as New York, and even people who never met Cruz but were moved by his story attended as well.
"I'll see him again. I'll see him later," said White. "I just want him to know that I was there for him. His spirit came and got me, and I want him to know I came to him."
On Nov. 10, service was held for Cruz at St. Augustine Church in Union City, and afterward, his body was taken to Fairview Cemetery. However, the family plans to have him buried in El Salvador when possible. Victor is planning to remain in New Jersey and continue his education in the area, so he can be closer to his family.
"I just want everyone to remember my dad, to remember what he did and what he accomplished," Victory said, "and on behalf of my family thank you to everyone for supporting us."