Floral Park mourns another child's death

Debbie Bilardello, 52, disucsses the death of 9-year-old

Debbie Bilardello, 52, disucsses the death of 9-year-old Andrew Burrous, who was struck by an out-of-control car. (May 14, 2011) (Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy)

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They took kids to Little League, attended first Communion and went about weekend chores on tree-lined streets, but in their hearts, Floral Park residents were reeling as they prepared for tomorrow's funeral of Andrew Burrous, 9.

The most recent tragedy -- Burrous was hit by a car as he bicycled on a sidewalk, his mother walking nearby -- had residents reflecting on the young lives lost, many in traffic accidents, over the past five years.

"It's like a curse, as if a black cloud is hanging over our village," said Darleen Giudice, who raised two sons here, now 26 and 30. "Nobody wants to say it, but it's like we're waiting for the next shoe to drop."

Keith Fox, 29, who grew up in the village, echoed that. "It's like the town can't get a break. The statistics are staggering."

But the village mayor says he's amazed by "the incredible bravery and courage people show" in the face of tragedy, adding, "But they're supported by this community, and that's probably a large part of how they do it -- so they tell me."

About 350 people attended a prayer service for Andrew at Our Lady of Victory Church on Friday night.

Accidents that have claimed the lives of residents include the 2009 Taconic Parkway wreck that killed Emma, Kate and Alyson Hance, ages 5 to 8, and five other people, and a crash on the Meadowbrook Parkway last year that killed teens Michael Mulhall and Jamie and Paige Malone.

In 2007, Kyle DiStasio, 8 months, died when a sport utility vehicle backed over him while he was in his stroller. And, in 2006, Kevin McArthur and Bobby Getschel, seniors at Floral Park Memorial High School, died a day apart -- McArthur in a Plainview Avenue car accident that also killed three other youths, and Getschel apparently of natural causes. The volunteer firefighter, who had responded to the crash that killed McArthur and the others, had open-heart surgery in 2001.

Almost 16,000 people live in the village, with families making up 74 percent of households, according to census figures.

"Whatever affects the world affects us, but it seems bigger here, it's magnified," Giudice said, seated on a garden bench.

After the latest tragedy, "everyone will hold their kids even closer and appreciate them, I'm sure . . . it's just a freaky thing, but we've had too many freaky things happening for one small town to handle."

During yesterday's two first Communion services, the Rev. John O'Farrell called on the congregation to remember Andrew Burrous. Later in an interview, O'Farrell said for the village to heal itself in times of crisis, "people gather to show their solidarity through prayer."

Mayor Tom Tweedy, 55, a lifelong resident, said faith, family and friends describe Floral Park. "Each time we have one of these terrible, terrible accidents, it's never routine."

Such tragedies, he said, happen all over, "but we feel it in Floral Park very deeply because we really care about each other very deeply."

Tweedy spoke of how -- amazingly -- survivors of the tragedies give back to the community. The Hance Family Foundation has distributed more than $75,000 in scholarships and education initiatives, and the DiStasios have set up a charity with an electrical union that raises money for a hospital neonatal ward, he said.

"Amazingly beautiful and incredibly positive things come out of these incredibly tragic events," Tweedy said.

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