Two generations come together to cope with losses

Reporter and Reporter

When David McCarthy and his family attended the memorial service in March honoring the three women who died in the March 2 wrong-way crash on Interstate-75, they looked on as President Mary Ellen Mazey addressed the parents of Rebekah Blakkolb, Christina Goyett and Sarah Hammond, just as former President Sidney Ribeau did with five families 10 years ago.

“It was very difficult,” McCarthy said. “Looking at the parents and seeing their pain and sadness, I saw myself in their eyes.”

March 15, 2002, his daughter, Sara Jean McCarthy and her five friends died when their mini-van spun out of control, broke through a median and collided with an oncoming tractor trailer on Interstate 71 in Verona, Ky. The crash occurred at around 9 p.m. as the women were returning from a weeklong spring break trip to Panama City, Fla.

The five women involved in the March 2 crash this year were on their way to Detroit for a flight to the Dominican Republic for the start of their spring break vacation.

McCarthy, a Brook Park, Ohio, resident and fire chief at Middlebrook Heights Fire Department, said when he and his family heard about the recent tragedy and saw how similar it was to their own story, they immediately decided to come to the March 16 “Celebration of Sisterhood” memorial service and offer their support to the victims’ families.

“Three out of the six of [the families] went to be there. Ironically, it was the 10-year anniversary,” he said. “It was very surreal, very similar. We just kept thinking, ‘This is us all over again.’”

Sara and her friends, Jackie Ahlers, Andrea Bakker, Ryan Leigh Ross, Jessica Hedlund and Michelle Saunders all lived in Founders Hall. Five of them were roommates in a suite with Hedlund living one floor above.

Their lives are remembered on campus with a memorial plaque outside of their former residence hall. Whenever the family makes it to Bowling Green to visit their son, senior Kevin McCarthy, they always meet up together and sit near the memorial to honor their daughter and her close friends.

“Whenever we’re in BG, we always go and spend some time together dusting it off, cleaning it up as a mom and dad,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said he and his wife remember Sara and her friends very fondly and choose to keep their daughter’s legacy alive through bright memories of the person she was.

“She wanted to teach,” he said. “She was in Education and she was a student worker at the campus library. She also volunteered for Wood County helping with special needs children. It’s really amazing to think about all of the lives that she touched.”

Since the accident, McCarthy said all six families have grown closer, meeting once a year to be together and celebrate the legacies of their daughters. During a dinner with the parents of Goyett, Blakkolb and Hammond, the McCarthys offered a helping hand in the healing process for the grieving families.

“Before the service, we all had dinner with the families and [President Mazey] and we offered our support to be with them and to let them join us once a year,” he said.

Following the loss of his daughter, McCarthy said he was not concerned with what needed to be done on campus, and the help from University staff and administrators made the process of coping easier.

“When something like this happens you’re in grief mode. You don’t realize what needs to be done,” he said. “The University reached out to us and said they wanted to have a memorial service for us and the rest of the families … Everything we ever needed, the University always took care of us.”

In the years since the accident, McCarthy said he, his wife and their children have taken great strides in keeping Sara’s legacy alive and well. Throughout the past few years, they have established the “Sara Jean McCarthy Scholarship” to help benefit Sara’s former school, Holy Name High School, which awards a deserving and needy student partial tuition to attend the private institution.

March 31, the McCarthys hosted the annual fundraiser, selling more than 300 tickets in less than a week. McCarthy said the fundraiser not only raised enough money for the scholarship, but it also raised some money for freshman Angelica Mormile and sophomore Kayla Somoles, the two survivors of the March 2 crash.

Michael Ginsburg, associate dean of students, worked to coordinate the memorial service for the families 10 years ago and is currently responsible for working with the Alpha Xi Delta sorority for an appropriate way to honor the lives of their sisters who died.

“One student, Lauren Purdy, wanted to plant trees and a have a plaque for each girl,” he said. “A faculty member in the School of Education and Development had the idea to have a bench for each of the girls. We’ll hopefully have the opportunity to know what we’re doing by the end of the semester with students seeing them by the beginning of fall.”

While his son Kevin is the last of the four McCarthys to graduate from the University this May, McCarthy will always appreciate the University for its compassion and care and he will always remember Sara for being much more to him than a University student.

“She was so beautiful. She just had that smile and that love for life,” he said. “She was an angel and I love her very much.”