Malalai Rafi, center, son Imran, 6, and daughter Mariam, 13, grieve for Mustafa Rafi in Sacramento. (Paul Kitagaki Jr./The Sacramento Bee)

Mustafa Rafi came from Kabul to the United States three weeks ago in search of safety. The 33-year-old engineer helped U.S. forces for years and feared for his family’s well-being in his native country, friends told the Sacramento Bee.

But the new life the Afghan refugee started in California was cut short during a Sunday morning bike ride near their apartment complex. A driver veered into the bike lane and struck the father and his 8-year-old son, police said.

Rafi died at the hospital, and his son, Omar, remains hospitalized, according to local reports.

“This is why this is so sad that this happened to him and his family,” Haroon Paikan, a friend and former colleague back in Afghanistan, told the Bee. “They came here for a new life. But the security situation in Afghanistan didn’t kill him. An accident here did.”

On Tuesday, Rafi’s widow Malalai and three of their children buried Rafi in a cardboard casket — it was all they could afford, the Bee reported.

Authorities are investigating the collision as a possible case of distracted driving and are looking into whether the 25-year-old driver, Desmen Lashonne Carrino, was using his cellphone, according to the California Highway Patrol.

No charges have been filed against Carrino but they could be coming, CHP spokeswoman Jenna Berry said. Alcohol or drugs don’t appear to have been a factor, and Carrino remained on the scene, Berry added.

[Distracted driving: 9 die, 1,060 hurt each day, CDC says]

Rafi worked on Army Corps of Engineer projects and applied for a Special Immigrant visa two years ago, Paikan told the Bee

Another friend, former U.S. Army interpreter Obaid Ahmady, told the newspaper that Rafi and his family fled after the Taliban threatened their lives.

“He did a lot of great things for the U.S. government,” Ahmady told the paper. “He was supporting freedom in Afghanistan. He built a lot of facilities for the Afghan military along with roads, schools and government buildings with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”

[In Afghanistan, interpreters who helped U.S. in war denied visas; U.S. says they face no threat]

Rafi’s widow speaks no English, and friends have organized a fundraising page to help her and her family. “I need help bringing my children to school. I’m not familiar with this society,” she told Fox affiliate KTXL through an interpreter. “My husband served the U.S. My husband was killed here.”


Malalai Rafi touches the hearse carrying her husband Mustafa during his funeral at the Muslim Mosque Association in Sacramento. (Paul Kitagaki Jr./The Sacramento Bee )

The couple has four children between the ages of 6 and 13, including 8-year-old Omar, who was injured Sunday, the Bee reported.

“I am lost without my husband,” Malalai told NBC affiliate KCRA. “I cannot do anything. I’m totally lost. Nobody’s here to take care of my kids. And I can’t go out and speak the language.”

Hamed Saqib, a family friend, told KTXL: “Who knows, when we are coming here to make a good life for the future of the children, for ourselves, who knows, one day something like this can happen.”

The Afghan community of Northern California has come out to support the family; hundreds of mourners attended Rafi’s funeral at a downtown Sacramento mosque, the Bee reported.

More from the Bee:

For nearly an hour, the mosque’s walls reverberated with the moans of Rafi’s wife of 15 years, Malalai Rafi, 35. Clad in a black robe and headscarf, she cried out to Allah and her late husband in her native Dari language while three of her children – Mariam, 13, Saleha, 8, and Imran, 6 – nestled into her. After Afghan men completed the ritual washing of Rafi’s body, it was brought out in the open box. Malalai and her daughter Mariam crumpled to the floor.

“They’re going to put you in the grave, I pray not to see my son this way,” Malalai sobbed. She raised her hands and cried, “He’s calling me. Let me go to him.”


Malalai Rafi and her 13-year-old daughter Mariam (seated) grieve during a funeral for Mustafa Rafi at the Muslim Mosque Association in Sacramento. (Paul Kitagaki Jr./The Sacramento Bee )