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An off-duty security officer returning home from work was first on the scene. "I approached the limo driver and I guess I went into shock at that time," says New York State court officer Michael Lerardi. "It looked like an explosion. The motor, basically, was just sitting on top of him. I knew he was dead." The limo driver, 59-year-old Stanley Rabinowitz, was killed instantly.

Next to arrive was Lt. Michael Tangney, the bride's uncle, who had attended the wedding just hours before. "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,'" Lt. Tangney says. "I opened the rear door to the limousine and realized it was my family."

Lt. Tangney's brother—Jennifer's father, Chris—was laying on the floor, his legs wrapped around the service bar, broken in numerous places. The rest of the family was piled on top of each other. Jennifer's mother, Denise, was severely injured, as was Jennifer's husband, Neil, who tried to crawl out of the limo to get help despite his broken back. Five-year-old Grace was also trapped inside the wreckage. Jennifer, whose foot was injured, managed to climb out and was searching for Katie, who had been lying on the side seat before the crash. "We couldn't find Kate," Lt. Tangney says. Then, Jennifer made a devastating discovery—Katie had been decapitated by her seatbelt.

"Then all of a sudden Mrs. Flynn came out of the car with her child's head in her hand," says Michael Lerardi, one of the 70 paramedics and police officers who were called to the scene. "I got numb. I thought I was going to collapse. All she was holding was this kid's head," says Officer Christopher Pandolfo. "I looked into the back of the limousine and I saw Katie's remains. She was wearing this dress and I just started shaking."

Jennifer walked to side of the road and sat for about an hour with her daughter's head on her lap as she watched her family being cut out of the limousine. Lt. Tangney had to tell his niece it was time to leave. "She very lucidly, very calmly said she wasn't going anywhere. She wasn't leaving Kate," he says. "I climbed into the ambulance and I told Jennifer that she'd have to come inside now because Grace needed her, and she said she's not going to let go of Kate. And I asked her if she would give her to me, and at that point she turned her over, kissed her goodbye, and handed her to me."
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FROM: Life-Saving Lessons from Families Like Yours
Published on January 01, 2006

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