An ambulance driver slammed into a stone bridge on the Southern State Parkway in Lakeview Wednesday, killing himself and a double transplant recipient who was finally leaving the hospital after 15 months, State Police and relatives said.
Larry Fuller, 55, an employee with the Hunter EMS ambulance service, was taking James Larson, 36, from Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan to a Uniondale rehabilitation center when the crash happened about noon in the eastbound lanes, police said.
Motorists told investigators that the driver was not speeding and police are trying to determine why Fuller lost control near the Eagle Avenue overpass, said State Trooper Frank Bandiero, a spokesman.
The tragedy left two families grieving the loss of loved ones who had fought valiantly to improve their lives. Larson, of Elmont, and Fuller, of Jamaica, Queens, were pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
Larson, who had been a cook, had a lifelong heart condition, said his mother, Barbara Lignowski, 62, of Elmont.
After his first transplanted heart started to fail two years ago, she said her son had to have a second heart transplant and a new kidney early last year. The first heart had damaged his kidneys.
But when he was ready to be discharged after the transplants in June, he mysteriously collapsed in the hospital bathroom and fell into a coma, she said.
A few weeks later, he woke up with some paralysis, but recently showed improvement.
“In the last couple of months, he was able to sit up, move his arms and feed himself,” Lignowski said.
He was headed to A. Holly Patterson Extended Care Facility in Uniondale, where he was going to get therapy to get his legs working, she said.
Larson was looking forward to seeing his daughter, 7, the girl who gave him strength to recover because he always wanted to be a family man, his mother said.
“He tried so hard to get over this,” Lignowski said. “He was determined because of his daughter. . . . He always wanted kids. And that’s when he started having problems with his heart, after he had his daughter.
“Now I’m never going to see him again,” the mother said in tears.
The crash also left another child without a father.
Fuller had always been there for her, said his daughter, Jillyne Fuller, 20, of the Bronx.
Larry Fuller, who had worked in airport security, at a museum and had several other jobs, started working a year ago at Hunter EMS ambulance. It was the longest he had ever held a job, said Jacqueline Williams, 50, of the Bronx, his ex-wife and Jillyne’s mother.
At Hunter, which has offices in Bay Shore and Inwood, he started as a driver, then worked behind a desk, his relatives said, but he recently volunteered to drive again because the company was short-handed.
Whenever she was sick or had problems, he never left her side, his daughter said, and the last time they spoke last week, he promised to get her cellphone fixed.
“Every time I needed him, my father was there for me,” she said. “He would never leave me hanging.”
Investigators said an autopsy will determine if Fuller had a medical emergency. Police said the cause of the crash does not appear criminal.
“Witnesses basically said the ambulance drove into the bridge . . . for no apparent reason,” Bandiero said.
“He just drove off the roadway into that side of the bridge. He struck a pole and a sign or two before striking the bridge.”
An emergency medical technician, Renato Endrada, 47, of Queens, was in the back with the patient and suffered a concussion and broken leg, police said. He was taken to Winthrop-University Hospital, police said.
The ambulance was taken to the state police headquarters in Farmingdale to be examined.
Bandiero said inspectors from the state transportation department did not find any structural damages to the overpass.
A representative from Hunter EMS did not return calls.