By Nicholas Confessore
In New York, delivering food can be a dangerous trade. At least three times in the last five years, deliverymen for Chinese restaurants have been killed by their customers, and it is not uncommon for restaurants to blacklist certain addresses or insist on delivering only to the front door of an apartment building.
But Ming Kuang Chen, who disappeared Saturday after making three deliveries to Tracey Towers, a housing complex on West Mosholu Parkway in the Bronx, is known for bringing food to a customer’s front door.
“He’s very comfortable delivering to any location,” said Joe Hoch, a deputy police inspector who stood yesterday near a mobile command unit parked outside the Tracey complex. He said the police have few leads in Mr. Chen’s disappearance.
“He knew a lot of people here,” Inspector Hoch said. “That’s why this is so strange. Usually, when you have a major crime like this, you have tips, anonymous phone calls.”
For three days, police officials have conducted a large search for Mr. Chen, who has worked at Happy Dragon, a restaurant located a few blocks away from Tracey Towers on Jerome Avenue, since arriving in the United States from China about two years ago. The search has employed aerial units as well as bloodhounds and dogs trained to smell cadavers, and has encompassed Van Cortlandt Park, Woodlawn Cemetery and the Jerome Park Reservoir, all nearby.
Mr. Chen’s bike was found chained outside Tracey Towers, and his final delivery was to a member of the Police Department who lives there. At a news conference yesterday, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said the department was conducting “an extensive search,” adding that of 871 units in the two high-rise towers, all but 54 had been entered and searched. “We’re endeavoring to enter those locations now,” he said.
Tina Lin, a friend of Mr. Chen’s, said she had contacted his family in China, where Mr. Chen’s wife lives with their 12-year-old son. “We haven’t heard anything from the police yet and I know they are still trying to find him,” she said.
Street vendors on Jerome Avenue described Mr. Chen as friendly and hard-working. He worked six days a week, making about 40 deliveries a day on weekdays and as many as 60 a day on weekends, said his co-workers at Happy Dragon. Yesterday, they worked the lunch shift almost wordlessly.
“We just want everyone to help look for him,” Lin Yan, a cashier, said quietly, choking back tears.
Mr. Chen’s family told the police that he had entered the country illegally with the help of a smuggler, but that he had paid off his $60,000 debt to the smuggler, a police official said.
Though the police said they were treating Mr. Chen’s disappearance as a missing persons case, Inspector Hoch acknowledged that Mr. Chen might be afraid to make his presence known for fear of running afoul of immigration authorities. That, he said, would be a “best-case scenario.”
© 2005 New York Times