May 24, 2006
It has been one year since the devastating ambulance accident last May 3 in which emergency responders Heidi Behr, 23, and William Anthony Stone, 30, lost their lives on Route 25 in Aquebogue.
One year since Heidi's, son, Jared, who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy and was only 15 months old at the time of the accident, lost his mother.
One year, and the tree marking the site of the accident is still adorned with flowers and ribbons and stuffed green frogs. Heidi, a Riverhead resident, loved frogs so much that after she died, her friends and colleagues at the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corp, Inc., placed a stone frog outside the ambulance barn in her honor.
It has been one year, a long year marked by tears. And, while time has passed, no one has forgotten.
The two EMTs were treating a heart attack victim when the ambulance in which they were riding was involved in a horrific accident.
While both driver and patient were securely belted, Behr and Stone were not, because they were working — striving valiantly to care for their patient. In saving a life, they lost their own.
And now, a year later, scores of individuals who wish to honor the memory of fallen EMTs have organized memorials across the country so those who died tragically in the line of duty will never be forgotten.
On April 22, the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corp, Inc. dedicated a new ambulance to replace the vehicle lost in the accident. A "wet down" was done by Riverhead and Jamesport Fire Departments and, with elected officials and Suffolk County EMS officials present, Riverhead Town Supervisor Phil Cardinale presented both the families of the fallen and RVAC members with proclamations stating that from that day forward, May 3 would be Heidi J. Behr and William A. Stone Day in Riverhead.
Just last week, 15 members of RVAC left at 4:15 in the morning to travel to Albany and attend the State of New York Emergency Medical Services Memorial. The 2005 Honor Roll consisted of Behr, Stone, and Brendan D. Pearson of the Fire Department of New York.
Finally, approximately 12 members of the RVAC will be attending the National EMS Memorial Service in Roanoke, VA this Saturday to honor their lost heroes.
Locally, Heidi's smiling face and giving spirit have remained in the hearts of those who continue to organize fundraisers to benefit Jared, including an event on July 19 at Islands End Golf Course, as well as the Jared Behr Golf Tournament organized by the Birchwood Restaurant, scheduled for August 2.
Another fundraiser will be held at the Boardy Barn in Hampton Bays, at a date still to be announced, in September.
Mary Rosko, director of Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corp, Inc., and Heidi's friend, said the ambulance dedication was "bittersweet."
Since the accident, said Rosko, there has been an increase in membership at the volunteer ambulance corp. But the nights without Heidi, who touched the lives of her colleagues with her courage, are long. Her friends still reminisce about how Heidi put in the call for dinner every Friday night when she brought her baby in for visits and hugs.
"We feel as if she's still here with us," said Rosko. "She's watching everything we do."
Although Heidi's friends are moving forward with their lives, Rosko said: "We all have moments when we hear a song on the radio, see a photo, or hear someone tell a story that reminds us of Heidi. Even though she may not be here with us, she will always be in our minds and hearts forever."
The year has been a hard one for June and John, Heidi's parents, with whom Jared now lives, and for her sister, Dana.
Heidi's son was faced with a new obstacle this past year: He was diagnosed as legally blind.
"Jared is making progress," assures June, who said they have traveled to Boston to seek guidance at the Perkins School for the Blind.
Jared is learning to walk with a walker, but things are going slowly because Heidi's little boy, like most two year-olds, wants to do it on his own, without the walker.
Although the year has been emotional, June said the support of the community members who have rallied around her family has helped.
Strangers, she said, reach out to her and her husband in the supermarket and ask about Jared. After the accident, news spread as far as St. Maarten and beyond: "My cousin is in the Peace Corp. in Ecuador and heard it on the news."
Donations have come from across the country, one from a bereft young woman in San Francisco whose own baby, had he lived, would have faced the same health challenges as Jared.
Throughout the year, Heidi's ambulance barn family has kept in touch, inviting the Behrs to their dinner dance and remembering Jared at Christmas and on his birthday, when they gave him a sandbox. "They're always thinking of us, and we do appreciate that."
Upon the anniversary of her daughter's death, June was thankful for the cards and notes that poured in: "It means more than you'd ever imagine at that point in your life."
This weekend, Heidi's family will make the trip to Virginia to honor their daughter and her fellow EMTs. Although exhausting and emotional, June said the memorials are essential. "I don't want people to forget what these young people did, and how they lost their lives."