Limousine crash ‘heartbreaking, gut-wrenching’ for New York community

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IMAGE: CNS photo/Lori Van Buren, Times Union

By Kate Blain

ALBANY,
N.Y. (CNS) — Among the 20 people killed in a devastating limousine accident
Oct. 6 in Schoharie were several victims who had connections to parishes, schools
and Catholic organizations of the Albany Diocese.

All
17 passengers in the limo and its driver were killed when the car ran through a
stop sign, struck two pedestrians and a parked car, and landed in a shallow
ravine. The pedestrians also died. Police have arrested the owner of the
limousine company and charged him with criminally negligent homicide.

Among
the fatalities was Amanda Halse, 26, was a server, bartender and supervisor at
the restaurant at Shaker Pointe senior living community in Watervliet,
sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Her boyfriend, Patrick
Cushing, also died in the crash.

Gregory
Reeves, regional vice president for Lifestyles, the company that runs the
restaurant, recalled the young woman everyone called “Mandy” as
low-key, with a “Mona Lisa smile.” Halse had worked at Shaker Pointe
for the past three years, since the restaurant opened.

“She
had an infectious smile,” Reeves said, and “what was behind it was a
desire to please.”

He
said he had spoken to Halse about pursuing a career in the restaurant industry;
he believed she had what it took to succeed.

Sister
Kay Ryan, who also is part of Shaker Pointe’s leadership team, agreed with that
assessment.

When
customers arrived at the restaurant, she said, “Mandy would say, ‘Can I
get you what you normally order, or are you trying to experiment?'”

“It’s
such a tragedy that this person who had such potential is not going to be here
to fulfill it,” Sister Kay told The Evangelist, Albany’s diocesan
newspaper. “She certainly lived the mission of Shaker Pointe.”

Cushing,
Halse’s boyfriend, graduated from eighth grade at St. Mary’s Institute in
Amsterdam in 2001.

“He
was a wonderful, quiet, shy kid,” recalled the school’s alumni relations
director, Jeanette Constantine, who knew several of the victims and their
families.

Constantine
noted that newlyweds Shane McGowan and Erin Vertucci McGowan, two more of the
crash victims, also attended St. Mary’s Institute through seventh grade and
second grade, respectively.

The
school remembered the victims in morning prayers when the school reopened Oct.
9 after Columbus Day weekend. Constantine said they would also be mentioned in
an upcoming liturgy.

The
McGowans married in June at St. Mary’s Church in Amsterdam.

Mrs.
McGowan, who was working toward a master’s degree in special education, had
worked at St. Mary’s Healthcare in Amsterdam. The hospital posted on Facebook
that “St. Mary’s Healthcare family sends thoughts and prayers to the
families and friends of those affected by the Schoharie tragedy” and noted
that the community is “(coming) together to support one another during
this difficult time.”

Mrs.
McGowan also was Cushing’s cousin. One current pre-kindergarten student at St.
Mary’s Institute lost an uncle in the accident. Another victim’s godchild
attends the school.

The
intertwined connections are an indication of the closeness of the
Amsterdam-area community. Two Catholics told The Evangelist that family members
had been on school sports teams with several of the victims and were coached by
others.

Constantine
said her nephew was a close friend of Cushing’s and had flown in from Chicago
to attend a candlelight vigil held the evening of Oct. 8 at the Amsterdam
pedestrian bridge.

Maryknoll
Father Jeffrey L’Arche, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Amsterdam, attended that
vigil, which drew well over 1,000 people. He said the candles ran out before
all the participants could take one.

Father
L’Arche said up to 10 of the victims’ funerals could be offered at nearby St.
Stanislaus Parish in Amsterdam. Two more will likely be at St. Mary’s, he said.
St. Stephen’s Parish in Hagaman, where some victims’ parents worship and one of
the couples were married, also could be a site for some funerals.

Dates
for the funeral Masses were still pending.

Constantine,
Father L’Arche and others used similar words to describe the tragedy:
“overwhelming,” “heartbreaking” and
“gut-wrenching.”

Constantine
said the hundreds of thousands of dollars already raised for children and other
survivors through online GoFundMe pages, as well as the sheer number of
memorials held for the victims, show the depth of the tragedy.

The accident has
been called the deadliest transportation accident in the United States since
2009.


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Blain
is editor of The Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany.

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