Frank Navaroli III always loved to throw a party, according to his family. On New Year’s Eve, the 27-year-old hosted one in downtown Buffalo.
A few hours into 2019, Navaroli became the city’s first homicide victim of the year after police say they found him dead in a stolen car in Allentown.
“I’ll be the first to say my son was no angel, but he was a good person,” said his mother, Patricia Navaroli.
Family members dispute that the car was stolen or that Navaroli was found dead in it.
According to police, Frank Navaroli, who had been shot at least twice, was the passenger in a car that crashed into a fire hydrant, parked car and light pole on Franklin Street, just north of Allen Street, at about 2:30 a.m. New Year’s Day.
Navaroli, known to friends and family as Frankie, was the host of a New Year’s party inside the now-closed Taqueria La Delicias, 454 Pearl St., according to his family and a poster promoting the event Navaroli posted on Facebook.
A short time before the crash on Franklin, police were called to a report of gunfire outside the Pearl Street restaurant. No victim was found and police initially said the report of shots was unfounded. Police arrested five people after finding a gun inside an SUV parked in the area.
At the crash scene where Navaroli was pronounced dead, the driver and a backseat passenger ran away before police arrived, witnesses told police.
Buffalo police have said little about what happened. A reward has been offered for information in the case.
City officials on Jan. 10 suspended operations at Taqueria La Delicias for a month following an administrative hearing. Authorities held the hearing based on police department complaints about the premises not complying with license requirements, police said. Staying open past permitted hours on multiple occasions was among the reasons cited by police, according to city officials. The business surrendered its liquor license on Feb. 7, according to a spokesman for the State Liquor Authority. A representative of the business could not be reached to comment.
'He would risk his life for a friend'
Navaroli, originally from Hartford, attended South Park High School. Frank and his sister, Alexis, were very close. Their family moved to Buffalo – when he was about 4 and she was 2 – in order to be close to an ill relative.
Even though Frankie was older, Alexis often played the role of a big sister as her brother sought advice, Alexis said. She described her brother as funny, kind and always laughing. He was fiercely loyal to friends, she said.
"He would risk his life for a friend," she said. "That's just how he was."
His mother, Patricia, said her son was "kind of shy" growing up, and his sister was "very protective" of him. Frankie was always a good student – "teachers loved him" – and when he was younger his friends used to gather on the family's porch, his mother said.
"The thing that set him apart, when he smiled, his eyes smiled, too," she said.
In June 2006, a 13-year-old boy was shot while riding his bicycle on Kingsley Street and died the next day. The teen was Frankie's friend.
"That really took a toll," Patricia Navaroli said.
His parents made sure he knew he was loved, so much so that it got a little annoying.
"I would tell him four or five times a day," his mother said. "It would get on his nerves."
At some point as he grew older, his interests "changed," according to his mother, who did not elaborate. Between 350 and 400 people attended his funeral, according to his family.
Frank Navaroli's past included multiple arrests, including on charges of robbery and assault.
At some point in life, individuals start making their own decisions, his mother said. Despite their upbringing, people make their own choices because they have free will, she said.
"I just told him, 'This is what real love is. Some of these people out here are not your friends,' " she said.
She tried to teach her son what was right, but added there are "consequences for every action."
"I just know that he was loved by his family and I know what we put into him," she said.