Victoria Ruvolo, who in a stunning act of kindness publicly forgave a teenager after he tossed a 20-pound turkey through her windshield in 2004, shattering every bone in the Lake Ronkonkoma woman's face, died Monday. She was 59.
Her nephew, Anthony Ruvolo, confirmed his aunt's death Wednesday and said the cause was unknown. Ruvolo's death was also announced on her website and professional Facebook page.
"It is with a very heavy heart that we announce the sudden and unexpected passing of our beloved Vickie," stated the message on her website, victoriaruvolo.com. "Forgive someone today."
Ruvolo's case captured the imagination of people around the world, first, because of its shocking nature, and later for her mercy on display when she begged prosecutors to spare Ryan Cushing, the teenager who tossed the turkey, from a potential 25-year prison sentence.
Ruvolo hugged Cushing in court during his second-degree assault guilty plea in 2005 and said, “Just do something good with your life.”
"I'd ask myself, 'What good is it going to do to throw him in jail for 25 years?' " she said in a 2011 Newsday interview. "Then I realized why it had happened to me. It happened to me so that I could save someone else's life — Ryan's."
She turned her tragedy into a career of compassion. Through motivational speaking and her book, “No Room for Vengeance: In Justice and Healing," Ruvolo urged victims to forgive their assailants.
"She was truly an angel in this world," said Carol Carter, co-founder and chief executive of the Sunshine Alternative Education & Prevention Center, a Port Jefferson Station nonprofit where Ruvolo frequently spoke to troubled youth and families. Ruvolo's professional Facebook page asked that donations in her name go to Carter's organization.
"Nothing can bring her back," Carter said, "but even to the last minute she was thinking of us."
Cushing could not be reached for comment Wednesday. He and a group of friends stole a credit card from a parked car on Nov. 13, 2004, and used it to buy video games, movies and the turkey, authorities said.
As they drove down Portion Road in Ronkonkoma, Cushing, 18 years old and a Huntington resident at the time, threw the turkey out of a back window. It crashed through the windshield of Ruvolo’s oncoming car, bent her steering wheel, and crushed her jaw, cheeks and left eye socket. She endured hours of reconstructive facial surgery and months of rehabilitation.
Ruvolo's advocacy for Cushing led Suffolk County Court Judge Barbara Kahn, who died earlier this month, to hand down a six-month jail sentence and community service. His friends and co-defendants pleaded guilty and were sentenced to probation.
Her book, co-authored with Commack lawyer and psychologist Robert Goldman, describes the courtroom scene: "The victim and her attacker suddenly embraced each other, openly crying. Spectators and reporters alike strained to hear what Ryan was saying, as he quietly apologized to Vickie for what he'd done before collapsing into loud sobs."
The parties settled a lawsuit in 2009 for an undisclosed amount, according to Ruvolo's Patchogue attorney Paul Feuer.
Her generosity touched family, friends and strangers nationwide through her speeches and spontaneity.
Goldman, who developed the Suffolk County probation department's TASTE program — Thinking errors, Anger management, Social skills and Talking Empathy — in which Ruvolo and Cushing were speakers, called her "an amazing woman."
"I'm just grateful I had the time with her to teach other people about forgiveness," he said.
Linda Anne Lynch, Ruvolo's best friend of more than 20 years who also handled her website and speaking engagements, said they frequently traveled to see concerts together at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the home of the 1969 Woodstock festival.
"She was just such a believer in second chances," Lynch said. "Forgive someone today in Vickie's memory."
Ruvolo's nephew said he moved in with her in 2012 after superstorm Sandy destroyed his home in Rockaway, Queens.
"Her story changed me," Anthony Ruvolo, 40, said. "When I read the book, it caused me to forgive people."
He said he watched his aunt give speeches at the Sunshine Center and was invited to share stories of his own difficult upbringing .
"They said that the kids really related to me," Anthony Ruvolo said. "I want to continue my aunt's legacy."
Anthony Ruvolo said his aunt was proud of Cushing.
"He became a better person instead of rotting in jail," he said. "Every day, she was in pain. But she was grateful to be alive."
Funeral services will be private.