FRAMINGHAM — When the Litvak family left Ukraine in 2000 to come to the United States, they struggled to adjust to life in their new country. They spoke no English, knew almost no one. Everything was unfamiliar.
But Frida Litvak kept the family optimistic, assuring them that things would get better in time.
“It was really hard, but she was always positive,” her sister, Galina , said Wednesday. “She was a wonderful person, very hard-working.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Frida Litvak, 56, was driving home to pick up her elderly father for a doctor’s appointment when a mattress fell from a dump truck onto Interstate 95 near the Burlington Mall. When Litvak stopped her car abruptly to avoid the fallen mattress, she was rear-ended by a pickup truck, and died later that day.
The driver of the dump truck did not stop after the mattress fell.
Galina Litvak said police told her that her sister was struck from behind at high speed, and would have caused a larger accident if she had instead swerved into an adjacent lane.
David Procopio, a State Police spokesman, agreed.
“She may well have prevented someone else from dying” by remaining in her lane, he said Wednesday.
Frida Litvak’s car landed on its side in the middle of the busy highway.
The driver of the vehicle that rear-ended her, Andrew Lawendowski, 43, of Charlton, sustained minor injuries. Both drivers were wearing seat belts, authorities said.
Litvak’s sister said her father began to worry when Litvak was late to pick him up. She soon received a call from Lahey Clinic, where Litvak had been taken.
“I knew something was wrong, even before they called,” she said. “She was never late to get him.”
Police are searching for the driver of the dump truck, and Galina Litvak said she hoped they would be able to track him down.
“You have to think before you do something” she said. “A lot of people drive like they are the only person on the road.”
Police told her the mattress fell from a pile of several mattresses, Litvak said.
State Police said they are looking for a large dump truck with a white cab and either black netting or a tarp partially covering its bed. The bed is believed to be dark, with wood along the sides. Two men were in the truck. Procopio said State Police were following up on numerous leads .
Frida Litvak lived in the same Framingham apartment complex as her sister and elderly parents, whom she cared for dutifully. She regularly read to her father, who has lost his sight.
“She was his eyes and his ears,” Galina Litvak said during an interview in her parents’ apartment Wednesday. Nearby, her mother wrung her hands and slowly shook her head, as a family friend patted her shoulder.
Frida Litvak had a giving spirit, and was known for helping immigrants from Russia and the former Soviet Union make their way in a new country, her sister said.
“She would help them find a doctor, fill out forms, figure out who to call,” she said. “She loved to help people.”
Frida Litvak had worked as a construction engineer in Ukraine, but after settling in Framingham began volunteering at a human service agency. She later went back to school to be a mental health counselor, earning a master’s degree from Cambridge College.
“If she was going to do something, she did it,” her sister said.
In recent years, she worked at Eliot Community Human Services in Lexington.
In the apartment complex where Litvak lived, she was remembered as a friendly woman who went out of her way to help others.
“I feel so sad because she was a nice lady,” said Licio Porto, who lives down the hall.
“I’m so sorry,” said neighbor Marta Risman, noting how good Litvak was to her father. “She was a very good person.”
State Police ask that anyone with information about the crash contact the State Police barracks in Concord at 978-369-4100.Globe correspondent Jacqueline Tempera contributed to this report. Peter Schworm can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.