January 2, 2005 was a very important day in the life of 7-year-old Katie Flynn.
She was one of the flower girls at her aunt Lisa’s wedding, along with her little sister Grace.
More than 200 friends and relatives gathered on the beach in Long Island to cheer Lisa and Davis on their wedding day.
Guests watched Katie and Grace scatter flowers in their beautiful dresses – but no one could have known it would be the last day alive for little Katie’s.
After a long day of love, laughter and celebration, the bride’s parents, Christopher and Denise, along with her sister Jennifer, Jennifer’s husband Neil, and their two young daughters, Katie and Grace, got into the limousine that would take them home.
“I remember looking at the limousine and seeing Katie waving goodbye, and I did not think it would be the kind of moment you see people for the last time”, said the groom, David.
The limousine left Long Island and hit the highway. They couldn’t know that the drunk driver Martin Heidgen was also on the road. Heidgen, traveling against the direction of traffic, collided head-on with the limousine and caused a horrific accident.
According to the police report, Heidgen’s blood alcohol level was three times higher than allowed. He drank at least 14 drinks and drove at a speed of 130 km/h against the direction of traffic for at least 5 km before the catastrophic accident occurred.
The limousine driver, Stanley Rabinowitz, 59, was killed on the spot after being crushed by the engine. The bride’s father, Christopher, broke both his legs in several places after flying out of the car. Later they had to amputate his 2 legs. His wife, Denise, was also seriously injured, and little Grace was trapped in the ruins.
Although suffering from a broken back, Neil tried to crawl out to call for help. Meanwhile, Jennifer, who was injured in the leg, was desperately looking for Katie, who was lying asleep on the side chair at the time of the accident.
And then Jennifer Flynn saw something no mother should ever see – her daughter Katie’s head was cut off from her seat belt.
One of the first to arrive at the scene was Michael Tangey, the bride’s uncle who works as a police officer. He had been to the wedding several hours before:
“I was walking to the back of the limousine when a guy came out and said, ‘Do not go there, it’s very bad’”, Michael Tangey said. “I opened the back door of the limousine and realized it was my family”.
But tragically, it was not the worst thing.
Michael Tangey saw Jennifer come out of the ruins of the car with her daughter’s head in her hands. Katie’s body remained in the car, still in the dress she had worn at the wedding several hours before.
For an entire hour, Jennifer sat on the side of the road. She held Katie’s head on her lap and watched as the rest of her family was taken out of the crushed vehicle.
Eventually, she released her daughter, and gave her to Michael. Before doing so she kissed her face one last time.
The event changed the lives of the whole family. Martin Heidgen was sentenced to 18 years in prison after being convicted of two counts of second-degree murder – but nothing of course could bring Jennifer’s daughter back.
Jennifer and Neil decided to speak boldly about their story, hoping it might prevent a similar catastrophe in the future.
“Because no one has to live the life I live, I felt a responsibility, a duty, to stand up and tell our story”, Jennifer said.
“I hope that by experiencing the devastation and rupture we survived that night, and still living it, people will see the seriousness of the crime of drunk driving. We hope we can save lives in the future”.
The fact that people still drink and drive is not surprising at all.
We are sure you have seen quite a few such stories on the news or on television. Unfortunately there are people who have experienced this up close, like Jennifer and her family.
Please share this story to remind everyone that alcohol and driving are a combination that does not belong to each other. We hope that with the help of this story we can prevent future tragedies.