NEWSDAY, November 14, 2023 by Nicholas Spangler

Ohio school band bus crash brings painful echoes to Farmingdale on day of big donation

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Farmingdale school officials on Tuesday rushed to prepare students to process news of another deadly bus crash involving high school band students — this one in Ohio, but with painful echoes of the one that took the lives of two Farmingdale educators and injured dozens of members of the Dalers high school band in September.

Farmingdale schools superintendent Paul Defendini, scheduled to attend a celebration of a donation to those affected by the Farmingdale crash, instead spent the afternoon with members of the school community, rescheduling several events and reopening a counseling center for students and others.

Farmingdale educators were “keenly aware” that the Ohio crash would “likely trigger many of our students and staff,” as well as refocus media attention on the district, Defendini wrote in a Tuesday afternoon letter to the community.

“We have had our fair share of trauma,” he wrote, “We are all tired and worn down.” But, he added, “we handled this before and I have no doubt that the strength of this community will once again hold up in the face of this recent tragedy.”

In eastern Ohio Tuesday, three teens were killed and 18 other people injured in a crash when a semi-truck rear-ended a charter bus carrying high school band students on a highway, according to state officials. The five-vehicle crash also killed three people in one passenger vehicle, according to Ohio State Highway Patrol.

The Sept. 22 crash in upstate Orange County of a charter bus carrying members of the Farmingdale High School band and their chaperones to a practice camp killed the school’s director of bands and a retired social studies teacher and injured dozens of student musicians, some seriously.

The last student left the hospital Oct. 6, recovering from a fractured neck that doctors said could have paralyzed her.

Tuesday’s donation ceremony was to have been a milestone in the school community’s recovery, and a reflection of the support that Long Islanders showed for the band in the weeks after the crash.

A Syosset pizzeria owner presented a mock $102,200 check to Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino, standing in for Defendini, representing real money that 140 Long Island pizzerias had raised, donating $5 from each of 15,437 pies they sold on Oct. 25, a day they called Long Island Pizza Strong Day. The pizzerias collected additional donations.

With “terrible things happening in the world,” said Anthony Laurino, owner of Phil’s Pizzeria and Restaurant, who hosted the ceremony at his pizzeria and was one of the organizers of Long Island Pizza Strong Day, “it’s nice to do something for people you don’t know.”

Laurino, the father of a Farmingdale band brass player, said the money would be divided between the band, those injured and the families of band leader Gina Pellettiere and chaperone Beatrice “Bea” Ferrari, killed in the crash.

“All of the Dalers thank you from the bottom of their hearts,” said Saladino. “This shows what can happen when you come together and lead with your heart,” he said.

In an interview, Laurino said he began thinking of ways to help after he and his wife picked up their son, Francesco, from school the night of the crash. “The streets were lined with people, almost like spectators at a parade, but they weren’t cheering and clapping — you could have heard a pin drop,” he said.

Impressed by the organization and the dedication he saw that night, Laurino made a plan with Jim Serpico of Plainview, a baker who owns Side Hustle Bread, and Alyssa Guidice of Hicksville, who runs Dine LI, a restaurant marketing group.

The three spent hours calling people in the pizza business. “This can be a source of healing whether you live in Farmingdale or not,” said Serpico. “It affects all of Long Island.”

Long pizzeria hours meant that Laurino had to miss some experiences like coaching youth sports, he said, “but this business allowed me to do this,” he said.

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