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The next days with the wake and funeral were again a blur. I don’t remember much. What I do remember was my youngest child was dead. She had been killed in a car accident with a fire truck. We would later come to find out that the fire truck that killed my daughter was responding to a false alarm, the second of the night to that same location, which added to the incomprehensibility of it all. All I knew was that I was never going to see her again.
What the Witnesses Saw
After reviewing the police report and hearing witness accounts, we began to confirm what we thought all along: Patti was a responsible person who always did the right thing. She had recently purchased the car she was driving that night herself and was very proud of it. She took very good care of it and was a cautious driver. She was always the person who reminded others to put on their seatbelts. The police determined she was driving well within the speed limit, she had her windows rolled down, the radio was at a low volume and she had a green light, the right of way. Witnesses, both in her vehicle that night and strangers in the park located at the scene of the accident, said they did not recall hearing any sirens until the impact and did not recall observing any flashing emergency lights. Witnesses said the fire truck went through the red light while Patti was going through the green. They said that the fire truck did not stop or appear to slow down at the intersection when it approached the red light. I have come to learn that standard fire safety precautions indicate that when approaching an intersection where an emergency vehicle has to go through a red light, the emergency vehicle should slow down or come to a stop and make sure it is safe before proceeding through.
At the hospital, Patti was tested for drugs and alcohol and the tests came back negative. To the best of our knowledge, the driver of the truck was not tested for drugs or alcohol; if he was, the results were not released to our family or lawyers. Rumors were floated our way from various sources regarding the possible “condition” of the driver. We will never know if he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs and if it played a factor in my daughter’s death. Why wasn’t he tested? The available information seemed to show that Patti did everything correctly that a driver possibly could. It became increasingly clear to us that the driver of the fire truck did not take the necessary safety precautions while operating an emergency vehicle. Was it because it was their second trip responding to a location where a false alarm had been called in previously that night?
A Call for Change
The next couple of months, I hurt so bad. I had a terrible pain in my chest that would not go away. I went through the motions of being alive. I didn’t know what to do. I decided that no family should ever have to go through what we went through. I contacted a lawyer so that we could make a statement: The New York City Fire Department needed to change. They had to be held responsible for their actions.
Whenever I showed up for preliminary hearings and depositions, the men involved in the accident were all joking and laughing and talking among themselves. No one showed any remorse. At the deposition, the driver of the truck was questioned about the incident and he said, “I don’t recall.” When asked, “You don’t recall?” he simply replied, “That happened almost three years ago, how could you expect me to remember that?” I thought, how could you not recall the day someone died as a result of your actions? My family and I have to remember it every minute of every day for the rest of our lives. I hated them for what they did to Patti. She was a healthy, happy, 19-year-old girl with so many years ahead of her.
As we waited several years for the case to come to court, I periodically attended meetings held by Compassionate Friends of Rockville Centre, a support group for parents who have lost children. In my grief, I wanted to reach out to others who were experiencing similar pain. With the help of two women who had also lost children, I co-founded Compassionate Friends of Flushing.