While the entire family was happy, Grace and Katie Flynn had a special role to play at their Aunt Lisa’s wedding. They were flower girls on July 2, 2005. But they didn’t realize that in a few hours, tragedy would irrevocably alter their lives. And now, the family wants to help others avoid what they had to endure but wish they hadn’t.
Jennifer and Neil Flynn had four kids, including 5-year-old Grace and 7-year-old Katie. The girls were looking forward to being flower girls, but Katie was more excited because Lisa was her godmother. They looked like princesses in their dresses as they attended the beach ceremony and walked down the aisle. They were having a lot of fun.
With over 200 family and friends attending her Long Island beach wedding to her fiancé David, Lisa felt as though her wedding couldn’t be more perfect. After the ceremony, Lisa noticed her nieces tossing rocks in the Long Island Sound and they were so happy. But in a few hours, the laughter and happiness had stopped.
David and Lisa rented buses to make sure that all of their guests were shuttled to and from their wedding and back safely to their hotel. Safety was important to them. They even got limousines for both her and his parents. After the wedding, Neil and Jennifer got in the limo with their two girls as well as Jennifer’s parents, Chris and Denise. But they didn’t know what fate had in store.
David, the groom, recalled: “I remember looking in on the limo and seeing Kate and waving goodbye and she waved goodbye and never thought that that was going to be that type of moment where you’re seeing people for the last time.” The limo had driven away with the family, but they never made it to their destination.
Jennifer had her back facing the windshield while she had Gracie close in her arms. Katie was sleeping on the side seat. Then, out of nowhere, everything changed. Jennifer’s father, Chris, recalls the horrific event: “Denise and I were looking out the window and we saw the car coming at us.”
A pick-up truck driving 70 miles an hour in the wrong direction struck the limo. The impact destroyed the limousine’s front. Michael Lerardi, a security officer who was heading home after work said, “It looked like an explosion.” When he saw the wreck, he pulled over to lend a hand. Sadly, he was the one who noticed the first lifeless victim.
59-year-old limo driver, Stanley Rabinowitz, died instantly. Lerardi remembers: “The motor, basically, was just sitting on top of him. I knew he was dead.” Then, the security officer noticed another car pulled over. It was the bride’s uncle, Lt. Michael Tangney. Lerardi didn’t know that Tangney’s family was in the limo, so he warned him to avoid getting too close to the vehicle.
“I opened the rear door to the limousine and realized it was my family,” Tangney said. His brother, Chris, had his legs wrapped around the service bar while everyone else was badly injured and piled on top of one another. But as he tried to get them out, he noticed someone wasn’t there. It was Katie.
Jennifer was able to climb out of the damaged limo with a broken foot. She went searching for her daughter in the wreck and made a horrifying discovery. The seat belt had cut Katie’s head off. Neil was struggling with a broken back while trying to crawl out of the vehicle, and he recalls listening to the cries of desperation from his wife.
Neil recalls being in denial. “I heard my wife screaming, ‘Katie’s dead,’ and I didn’t want to accept it so I screamed back, ‘No, she’s just hurt real bad.’ I didn’t know what Jen knew then.” Then, Jennifer picked Katie’s head up and walked to the side of the road in shock. There, she sat and watched for a long time while rescuers tried helping her family, but Jennifer didn’t want to leave the scene.
Jennifer’s uncle said, “I climbed into the ambulance and I told Jennifer that she’d have to come inside now because Grace needed her, and she said she’s not going to let go of Kate. And I asked her if she would give her to me, and at that point, she turned her over, kissed her goodbye, and handed her to me.” The Flynns learned what caused the crash and they were devastated.
24-year-old Martin Heidgen had been behind the wheel of the pick-up truck. Cops learned he had more than 14 drinks, and that his blood alcohol level was three times over the legal limit. He was driving for about two miles in the wrong direction before he smashed into the limo. The district attorney pressed charges against Heidgen twelve days after the crash.
The Flynn and Rabinowitz families waited a whole year before they saw Heidgen head to trial after being charged with the second-degree murders of Katie and Stanley. He was found guilty five days of deliberations and was sentenced to a New York correctional center for 18 years. But this did nothing to ease the loss, particularly for Katie’s parents.
After losing Katie, Jennifer and Neil have tried to move on. Neil admitted: “Life’s terrible. It’s miserable. The good part’s over. That was when we had all our kids. We were a family. Now we’re stuck. We’re just struggling through for the good of our three other children.” But they felt it necessary to tell their story so that others won’t go through the pain they’ve had to face.
Jennifer went on Oprah to share her story. “Because no one should live the life that I live. I felt a responsibility, an obligation, to come and to tell our story.” It’s the couple’s hope that Heidgen’s conviction will prove that society has a no-tolerance policy on drunk driving. She added, “I think that for drunk driving to be curbed that it needs to hurt if you were to get caught drunk driving.”