A New Hyde Park teen who turned 16 this month died after a go-kart accident on winter break in Florida, officials said Tuesday.
Leah Kuczinski was a sophomore cheerleader and a field hockey player at New Hyde Park Memorial High School, where students and staff members mourned her death and many wore blue — the school’s color — in her honor.
A candlelight vigil was planned for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the athletic field.
Kuczinski’s uncle Ed Grilli of Merrick said in a telephone interview Tuesday that a sweet 16 party had been planned for his niece this weekend at the New Hyde Park firehouse.
He said that Leah’s father, Peter Kuczinski, and her older brother, Brian, are volunteer firefighters. Leah Kuczinski is also survived by her mother, Maria — Grilli’s sister — and her older sister, Alyssa.
“It’s just devastating — there are no words that can explain it — it’s something you can’t expect. She was just the sweetest of people and loved animals and rescuing pets,” he said. He said Kuczinski had a rabbit and dog.
Kuczinski was at the wheel when the go-kart crashed shortly before 3 p.m. Thursday on the go-kart track at the Palm Beach International Raceway in Jupiter, according to a report from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. She was taken to St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, according to the report. Details of the accident were not provided.
A spokeswoman with New Hyde Park Funeral Home, which is handling arrangements, said Kuczinski died Sunday. The funeral will be Saturday — the day that had been set for Kuczinski’s sweet 16.
A representative with the raceway confirmed Tuesday that the accident happened on the go-kart track but he referred questions to an official who couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
In a Facebook post Kuczinski’s Spanish teacher, Tiffany Salcedo, wrote, “Words cannot express the absolute pain my heart feels losing my ray of sunshine.” She added that she looked forward to seeing Kuczinski’s smile every day.
New Hyde Park Memorial High School Principal Richard Faccio told News 12 that students and the community are supporting the family.
“The students are amazing and the community is amazing. They’ve really come together and done a lot of different things to support the family and to support each other,” said Faccio. “We set up a crisis center in our library yesterday for students to take the time to heal and grieve.”
“She was a really nice, funny person. Always really real, she never hid anything,” senior Matt D’Amato told News 12. “The hallways are a little cold and silent. Everyone is taking it a different way.”
A GoFundMe page created on Facebook on Monday showed that by Tuesday night nearly $75,000 had been raised though the goal was $15,000. It said the money would be used to help the family with funeral expenses and “make things a little easier.”
“What’s touching to me about the GoFundMe is that there were so many small donations,” Grilli said. He said that by about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday about 1,000 people had contributed. “It shows she touched a lot of lives in her short life.”
On the GoFundMe page a description of Kuczinski was also given. “Leah was such a beautiful, kind hearted and caring individual who always knew how to make every second count,” the page said. “She will be greatly missed by not only her friends and family but the entire New Hyde Park community.”
A wake will be held at the funeral home on Thursday from 7 to 9:30 p.m., and Friday from 2 to 4:30 p.m. and 7 to 9:30 p.m. Mass will be at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Church at 500 Jericho Tpke. in New Hyde Park.
In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations go to the Leah Kuczinski Legacy Foundation, to be established this week and dedicated to “good deeds” in her honor, her family said.