January 2nd, 2005, was a very important day in seven-year-old Katie Flynn’s life.
She was one of the flower girls at her aunt Lisa’s wedding, along with her younger sister Grace.
Over 200 friends and relatives had gathered on a beach in Long Island to witness Lisa and David exchange their vows and join in holy matrimony.
The guests watched on as Katie and Grace walked down the isle with their beautiful dresses and innocent smiles – but nobody could have known this was to be the last day of young Katie’s life.
After a long day of love, laughter and festivities, the bride’s parents, Christopher and Denice, along with her sister, Jennifer, Jennifer’s husband, Neil, and their two young daughters, Katie and Grace, got in the limousine that would take them home.
“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,” the groom, David, told CNN.
The limousine left the Long Island wedding and joined the highway. They could never have known that a drunk 24-year-old, Martin Heidgen, was also on the road. Heidgen, driving on the wrong side of the road, hit the limo head-on, causing a devastating accident.
Police reports revealed that Heidgen’s blood alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit. He had consumed at least 14 drinks and had been driving at 70 miles an hour, on the wrong side of the highway, for at least two miles before the catastrophic accident occurred.
The driver of the limousine, 59-year-old Stanley Rabinowitz, was killed instantly after being crushed by the engine. The bride’s father, Christopher, broke both of his legs in several places after being thrown to the floor. He later had to have one amputated. His wife, Denise, was also seriously injured, and little Grace was stuck in the folds of the wreckage.
Despite having a broken back, Neil attempted to crawl from the car to seek help. Meanwhile, Jennifer, who had injured her foot, was desperately searching for Katie, who had been lying on the side seat at the time of the crash.
Then, Jennifer Flynn came across something that no mother should ever have to witness – her daughter, Katie, had been decapitated by her own seat-belt.
One of the first responders on the scene was Michael Tangney, the bride’s uncle and a policeman himself. He had been at 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,’” Michael Tangney said. “I opened the rear door to the limousine and realized it was my family.”
But, tragically, the worst was yet to come.
Michael Tagney would witness Jennifer emerging from the wreck with her daughter’s head in her hands. Katie’s body remained in the car, still in the dress she had proudly worn for the wedding only a few hours previous.
For the next hour, Jennifer sat next to the road. She kept Katie’s head on her lap and watched as the rest of her family was freed from the wreckage of the destroyed vehicle.
Eventually, she let her daughter go; handing her to Michael. Before she did so, she kissed her daughter’s face one last time.
The event altered the lives of the whole family. Martin Heidgen was sentenced to 18 years in prison for two counts of second-degree murder – though nothing, of course, can ever bring back Jennifer’s daughter.
Jennifer and Neil have bravely chosen to talk openly about their story, in the hope that it might prevent a similar catastrophe from happening again.
“Since no one should have to live the life I do, I felt a responsibility, an obligation, to stand up and tell our story,” Jennifer said.
“I hope that by experiencing the devastation that we survived that night, and still continue to live through, people can see the seriousness of drunk driving as the crime it really is. Hopefully we will save more in the future.”
The fact that people still drive drunk will come as no surprise to you.
I’m sure you’ve seen your fair share of stories on the news and watched it happen in movies. Some people, unfortunately, have even had to experience it first-hand, just like Jennifer and her family.
Please share this story to remind any and all that alcohol and driving are a combination that never belong together. Hopefully, by doing so, we can prevent acts like tragedy occurring in the future.