Friends and family of Melissa Marchese came to a Miller Place funeral home Thursday night, alone or in small groups, but all heaped praise on the popular high school student and softball phenom who died in a car crash last week.
"She was a really good girl," said Tim McHugh, 22, of East Patchogue, who knew Marchese through his friendship with her cousin, adding that he chokes up when speaking about the gifted high school senior. "I grew up with her."
Nineteen-year-old Chris Gordon of Ronkonkoma, dressed in black like many other mourners, came to the Branch Funeral Home to pay his respects along with Chris DeVito, 18 of Oakdale and Chris Sloup, 17 of Sayville.
"She was a sweetheart — I know that," Gordon said, adding that he had known Marchese for about a year and a half since he, DeVito and Sloup met her at a party in Bohemia.
Marchese, a senior at Shoreham-Wading River High School died of injuries suffered in a car crash June 13 as she and two other teens were on their way to a school honors ceremony. Her death — just weeks before she was to graduate — stunned students, teachers and administrators at the high school.
A day after the crash, Shoreham-Wading River Schools Superintendent Gerard Poole said the high school was canceling finals for the day.
“There will be no negative impact on any student final grades as a result,” the district said in a statement announcing the cancellation “Our hearts and thoughts are with the impacted students and their families. The district’s mental health team will be available in the high school library for student support today."
Thursday night, the first night of visiting for Marchese at the funeral home, many who knew the standout student athlete — set to attend the University of Hartford to play softball — recalled a young woman with unlimited potential.
Parents of Marchese's friends said her softball talents were such that she could have easily played for the U.S. Olympic team.
"It's a tragedy," said Jason Alexander, 53, of Mastic, a friend of her father. "This girl was destined to do great things."
The crash that took Marchese's life occurred about 6:50 p.m., police said, after she and two other teenagers had just left home to go to the high school for the ceremony.
Earlier, students had celebrated the last day of classes at the school, according to the online school calendar, with a High School Senior Recognition Night ceremony set for 7 p.m.
Witnesses told investigators that a Hyundai Elantra with Marchese and two other teens going south on Miller Avenue was turning left onto Route 25A when it was hit by a Honda Accord that ran a red light as it traveled west on Route 25A, police said.
Marchese, the Hyundai's backseat passenger, sustained serious head injuries and was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital, where she later died, officials said.
The Hyundai driver, Evan Flannery, 17, and another passenger, Caroline Tyburski, 18, both of Shoreham, were taken to St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson with non-life-threatening injuries, police said. Flannery and Tyburski were fellow seniors.
The Honda driver, Michael Troiano, 34, of Ridge, was taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead with non-life-threatening injuries, police said.
Troiano told detectives that he took his eyes off the road for an instant when he was distracted by something in the car. Investigators checked his cellphone to determine if he was texting and administered drunken driving tests but did not find any criminality, police said.
As of Thursday night, a GoFundMe page set up in Marchese's name had raised more than $69,000 toward agoal of $85,000.