The Associated Press
FLORAL PARK, N.Y. (AP) -Parents gripping the hands of young children were among hundreds of mourners who streamed into a Long Island church Thursday to remember five family memberskilled in a wrong-way crash on a suburban New York parkway.
Five hearses carrying pristine white coffins provided the final journey for Diane Schuler, 36; her daughter, Erin, 2; and nieces Emma Hance, 8, Alyson, 7, and Kate, 5.
Warren Hance, the father of the three older girls who died, broke down as he tried to thank the congregation and community for their support as the Mass began.
"Love your children, cherish your children, kiss your children and don't ever forget," Hance said as he broke down in sobs that set off a chain-reaction of tears throughout Our Lady of Victory Roman Catholic Church. An overflow crowd listened on loudspeakers in a park across the street.
Moments earlier, Hance considered a future without his children. "When you see us on the street, please don't look away, please don't be afraid to talk to us. You don't have to offer any more condolences, you don't have to tell us how sorry you are.
"Our whole families only ask that you keep my girls, my sister, and my niece and all of us in your daily prayers."
Three Yonkers men also were killed Sunday when Schuler drove a minivan the wrong way for 1.7 miles on the Taconic Parkway, crashing into their SUV in Briarcliff Manor.
Schuler's 5-year-old son survived, but was hospitalized. Her husband was not in the vehicle.
"Words are inadequate to express our feelings. On a human level, I can think only to say, too young and too soon," the Rev. John O'Farrell said outside the church before the service.
When the accident occurred, Schuler was headed home to West Babylon from a camp in upstate Sullivan County where the family spent weekends.
Investigators said it now appears she crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge into Westchester County and stopped in a pull-off area. She told her brother in a phone call that she felt disoriented and had troubleseeing.
A driver found her cell phone and turned it in to police, who were obtaining a subpoena to examine the phone records. Investigators also planned to retrace Schuler's drive on Thursday.
Schuler plowed into an SUV driven by Guy Bastardi, 49, of Yonkers. The minivan plunged down an embankment and burst into flames. Bastardi died along with his father, Michael, an 81-year-old Korean War veteran; and family friend Daniel Longo, 74.
Funerals will be held Saturday for the Bastardis and Monday for Longo. Both Masses will be at St. John the Baptist Church in Yonkers.
Bastardi's SUV spun out and hit a third vehicle, whose occupants escaped serious injury.