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Community mourns four teens killed in Farmingdale car crash

Kayla Olsen, 14, right, hugs a friend before

Kayla Olsen, 14, right, hugs a friend before a candlelight vigil outside of St. Kilian Church in Farmingdale on Sunday, May 11, 2014. Credit: Steven Sunshine

More than 1,000 people struggled Sunday night to come to grips with the deaths of four teenagers -- all students of Farmingdale High School -- who were killed in a head-on collision on a stretch of road considered dangerous by many in the community.

Five teenagers were in a 2001 Nissan sedan heading west on Conklin Street when it crossed into the eastbound lanes and collided about 12:04 a.m. Saturday with a sport utility vehicle near Staples Street, Nassau County police said.

Sunday night, the crowd spilled out of St. Kilian Roman Catholic Church, near the site of the accident, where community members gathered for a prayer vigil.

"We pray for the families and friends. We pray for the Farmingdale High School community," said Msgr. Michael Flynn, the church's pastor. "We pray for the first-responders of Saturday morning's accident."

Outside the church, firefighters and other first-responders held their own vigil, with ambulances and trucks filling Conklin Street, their lights flashing. Two ladder trucks held a Farmingdale High banner aloft above the church's entrance.

Inside, Flynn spoke before the packed church as mourners held white candles. Many wore bracelets of green ribbon -- Farmingdale High's school color.

After the 40-minute vigil, the crowd leaving the church gathered silently outside.

As the church bell tolled, the Rev. Michael Duffy shouted out to the crowd gathered on the lawn after the vigil. "We will not be broken by this," he said. "We are strong. Our families are strong. Our faith is strong. Our community is strong."

As he left the vigil, Farmingdale High principal Glen Zakian said he expected Monday to be the most difficult of his career. "I pray I never have to experience anything like this again."

Sunday morning, Flynn said he had been warning officials about the safety of Conklin Street since 2006.

The four Farmingdale teens who died were identified by relatives as Jesse Romero, 17; Tristan Reichle, 17; Carly Marie Lonnborg, 14; and Noah Francis, 15. A fifth Farmingdale teenager, Cody Talanian, 17, was in surgery Sunday at Nassau University Medical Center, according to a close friend who also said the teen had attended the high school in the past.

The impact of the crash threw two teens from the car and one of them died at the scene.

Two passengers who remained in the car were killed on impact and the driver was pronounced dead at NUMC.

In March 2013, a 20-year-old Melville man died on Conklin Street 1 1/2 miles from Saturday morning's accident scene, when the car he was driving left the road and hit a fence. Conklin Street is State Route 24, which is called Hempstead Turnpike in other parts of the county. It has been identified as one of the island's most dangerous roads for pedestrians.

In response to the pastor's concerns, the state in the summer of 2011 installed crossing beacons in front of the church between Elizabeth and Cherry Streets. But Flynn believes its not enough and also said there should be better enforcement of traffic laws in that area.

"This weekend our hearts are broken," Duffy said during the homily Sunday morning at St. Kilian. "This weekend our minds are in a different place. Four of our young people have gone home to God," he said.

An online fund set up to help pay for Noah Francis's funeral had raised more than $13,000 by Sunday night. Francis and his five siblings lost their father in August and their mother 14 years ago, said Anastasia Caputo, 37, of Wantagh, whose brother is married to Noah's sister, Celeste, who was raising Noah.

A wake was held Sunday for Jesse Romero at the Arthur F. White Funeral Home on Conklin Street in Farmingdale. Funeral arrangements were incomplete Sunday night.

Sal Sherman, 18, who graduated from Farmingdale High and was a close friend of Jesse laid down a white rose at the scene of the crash Sunday. "Everybody's really close," he said of the community. "This is a time when everybody is bonding and coming together."

Police would not comment on the status of the investigation. They impounded both vehicles for routine brake and other safety checks as vehicular homicide investigators began working to re-create the crash, using measurements of skid marks, analysis of vehicle damage, witness statements and forensic "black box-type" information, according to a police source.

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