CLIFTON PARK Deborah Rivers clutched a picture of her daughter Deanna and a pink teddy bear Thursday as she quietly followed the 17-year-old girl’s white casket from St. Edward the Confessor Church.
She stood curbside as pallbearers loaded the casket into a hearse, her arm locked with husband Brian’s arm. All around the couple were looks of anguish and pain, stoic grimaces and tears.
Hundreds poured from the sanctuary as they watched the solemn procession. Moments earlier, they were among a standing-room-only crowd listening to the eulogy of their eldest daughter.
But if there is such a thing as strength in numbers, the Rivers family had it on the day they laid Deanna to rest. They were joined in their grief by scores from the Shenendehowa school community — friends, athletes, educators and everyone in between.
The Shenendehowa High School choir sang alongside the church choir during the service, while family members and friends wore buttons bearing a picture of Deanna’s smiling face. They were united under one roof Thursday morning to celebrate her life once more and to give one another the strength to move forward.
A softball player on the Shenendehowa High varsity team, Deanna was killed Saturday evening after the 2000 Ford Explorer she was riding in on the Northway was clipped by a 2004 Volvo driven by 22-year-old Dennis Drue. Also killed was classmate Chris Stewart, a captain of the football team and driver of the Explorer.
Badly injured in the crash were Bailey Wind, a Shaker High School senior, and Matt Hardy, a fellow Shen senior and member of the varsity football team. Still hospitalized with his injuries, the 17-year-old Hardy was brought to the church by ambulance in a wheelchair to attend the service for Deanna, who was his girlfriend.
CBS6 Albany, the Gazette’s newsgathering partner, reported late Thursday that Hardy was released from Albany Medical Center later in the day.
The young couple had been riding in the back of the Explorer after watching Siena College’s basketball team lose to the University at Albany at the Times Union Center. The impact of the collision sent the vehicle tumbling across the Northway until it came to rest in a wooded area by the median.
Deanna was a speedy second baseman with Shenendehowa’s varsity softball team and was the manager of the basketball team. She was popular among her peers and made friends almost as quickly as she ran around the diamond.
She celebrated her 17th birthday last week and planned to attend the College of Saint Rose in Albany next year. She hoped to become a teacher.
Calling hours for Stewart are scheduled for 4 to 8 p.m. today at Corpus Christi Church in Round Lake. A memorial Mass is scheduled for Saturday.
The anticipated draw of the two funerals has prompted the district to postpone or cancel many of the sporting events on tap for the weekend. Boys and girls basketball games against Niskayuna this evening were postponed, and the start of Shenendehowa varsity hockey’s home match-up against Mamaroneck was pushed back a half-hour so students could attend Stewart’s wake. An eight-school, two-day wrestling tournament hosted by the district was canceled.
Meanwhile, authorities are continuing to investigate what kind of criminal culpability Drue may have in the case after they detected alcohol in his system at the crash scene. Results from a test to determine Drue’s blood alcohol content were returned Thursday, but state police are withholding the results until they can test the sample for other substances.
Drue, who suffered minor injuries in the crash, has a low-level criminal record and a history of speeding convictions. He lost his license for nearly a year in 2008 after landing three speeding convictions in 18 months.
Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy III said the state police crime lab was asked to expedite tests and expects to have results sometime by the end of next week. He said the families of those injured and killed in the Northway crash understand that patience is necessary to allow for the proper tests to be conducted.
“The blood sample would normally be tested for a whole range of substances in the ordinary course of the investigation, and that is what is being done here,” he said in a statement released Thursday afternoon. “It is important for us to allow the lab to do a thorough investigation, rather than one that is based on artificial timetables.”