Weddings are a time of love and family, happiness, and new life. They take months to plan and thousands of dollars to bring to life. Yet even the happiest of days and the best-laid plans, can be marred by unexpected tragedy.
For one couple, what began as a perfect wedding day, a gathering of friends and family on a placid, picturesque beach, would end in tragedy, the likes of which they could never have predicted…
The first man on the scene was an off-duty security officer named Michael Lerardi. He was a court officer and he was on his on his way home when he saw what looked like a rather severe car crash on the side of the road. He approached with caution, unsure of what he saw, and dialed 911 as he did so.
There had been two vehicles in the crash, and by the looks of the head-on collision, it seemed like at least one of them had been going the wrong way. From his vantage point, all he could tell was that the driver of one of the cars, a limo by the look of it, was already dead. The motor was already on top of him. Soon enough, backup arrived…
Lt. Michael Tangney had been attending the beach wedding of his niece some hours before. He was back on shift when he heard the report come in that a limousine had been hit on the highway not far from the beach where the ceremony had commenced. Dark thoughts crossed his worried mind, and he did the only thing he could do in that situation, he went to help.
Lt.Tangney remembered the moment that the grim reality of the situation became clear. “I was walking to the rear of the limousine when a gentleman was coming away from it, and he said, ‘Don’t go back there. It’s bad,'” He opened the rear door and realized that his worst fears had come to light: inside the wrecked limousine were the twisted remains of most of his family…
Only a few hours earlier, Lisa and David, and their 200 friends and family members had gathered on a Long Island beach to celebrate their long-awaited wedding. Lisa remembered the joy on everyone’s face when her little nieces, 5-year-old Grace and 7-year-old Katie, stood next to them. They looked like little princesses.
The day that followed was one of celebration. When it was all over, Lisa’s parents, Christopher and Denise, along with her sister, Jennifer, Jennifer’s husband, Neil, and their daughters, Grace and Katie, all packed into a limousine and headed home. They had no idea the danger that awaited them in the form of another driver…
24-year-old Martin Heidgen had 13 too many drinks before he decided to get in his car that day. At the time, he wasn’t aware of the fact that his blood alcohol level was three times over the legal limit. It wasn’t until he hit the limousine at 70 miles per hour whilst driving down the wrong side of the highway that he realized he’d made a huge mistake.
Wrecked in Heaps
Later that day, Lt. Tangney opened the back door of the wrecked limo to see his brother Chris, lying broken in a heap on the floor and his sister-in-law Denise, unconscious and gravely injured. His niece and nephew, Jennifer and Neil, were both too injured to move, but tried their best to crawl out and find help…
Jennifer’s foot was too injured for her to move, and yet she managed to crawl around the interior of the limo to find help. Her five-year-old Grace was trapped inside the wreckage, but she couldn’t seem to find 7-year-old Kate. Then, she saw it, the sight that would break the heart and mind of any mother.
Head in Hand
Katie had been decapitated by her seat belt, but it was only Jennifer who knew it then. It wasn’t until she managed to drag herself out of the car that the 70 paramedics and police officers noticed the gruesome memento she had kept with her. Jennifer was holding Kate’s severed head in her hands. She had completely lost it…
Not Leaving Kate
The rescue team and police officers didn’t try to stop her as Jennifer walked to side of the road. She sat down and placed her daughter’s head in her lap, watching with blank and tear-stained eyes as the rest of her family was carefully cut from the wreck. Eventually, Lt. Tangney came over to tell his niece that they had to leave.
Jennifer was lucid, she was calm, but she was not in her right mind. She told her uncle that she wasn’t going anywhere. Lt. Tangney told her that she needed to go because Grace needed her. It was those words, the idea that her only remaining daughter needed her help, that brought her to her senses. She kissed Kate’s head goodbye and handed it over before getting to the ambulance…
David, the groom, recalled his own memory from what was once the greatest day of his life. “I remember looking in on the limo and seeing Kate and waving goodbye and she waved goodbye and never thought that was going to be the type of moment where you’re seeing people for the last time…It’s, I guess, a moment I see every day.”
It was only Katie and the limo driver, 59-year-old Stanley Rabinowitz, who perished in the terrible accident. The rest of the family survived, though each of them were severely injured, and emotionally scarred by the experience. When it was all said and done, Jennifer and Neil decided that the circumstances surrounding the loss of their daughter had to be told to the world…
Telling Their Tale
The grieving parents felt that no one should have to live the life they did, to know the devastation that they suffered through because of one man’s selfish, bone-headed actions. “Hopefully people are able to see and view the crime of drunken driving as it should be seen and viewed and that hopefully we’ll save lives.” explains Jennifer.
When recalling that night, Jennifer remembers her back being to the windshield. She had been holding Grace, and Katie was lying down on the seat with he seat belt on. Screaming started and before she knew what hit them, she was crawling around in pain, looking for her daughters. Meanwhile, Neil remembered the moment a little differently…
Neil’s back had been broken and he was trying to crawl from the limo. In the haze of pain and confusion, he heard his wife screaming that Katie was dead. At the time, he thought that perhaps she was just severely injured and that Jennifer was just worried she might be dead. He didn’t know what she had discovered.
Keep Them Safe
Jennifer truly believes that people need to understand, more than anything else the repercussions of their actions. “Actions have consequences, and I think everyone needs to know that and recognize it…” she explains. She also wants to see those who drink and drive, punished for their crimes accordingly. So that no one else suffers as she and her family have done. As for the bride and groom, they feel something else about that day as well…
As the two of them try to raise awareness of the dangers of drunk driving, Jennifer’s sister Lisa and brother-in-law David continue to feel only guilt about that day. It was the Fourth of July and they knew that statistically it was DWI season and they had done everything they could to ensure that no one had to drink and drive during their wedding.
“We planned better than most would plan,” explained David. “We had a bus to take people back and forth from the hotel to the reception…We had a whole slew of rooms for people to stay in. We had limousines for parents and family, and even that wasn’t enough.” They could never have accounted for other people but sometimes even the truth doesn’t make the pain go away.