“Walking up and down the beach yesterday, everybody was crying, it was unbelievable,” according to Long Beach resident Jim Mulvaney, whose son used to play soccer with Flynn’s uncle.
“Everybody in the town knows someone from that family — they were involved in everything. They’re such a lovely family.”
Last Sunday, more than 500 residents attended a service at St. Ignatius Martyr Church to pay their respects to the Flynn family, who were well known amongst the small, largely Irish community.
“You’re stunned, shocked,” according Frances Ryan, president of Point Lookout Civic Association. His daughter attended Long Beach Catholic Regional School with Flynn, who made her First Holy Communion in May.
“As Irish Catholics, you have to put a great faith in God to help you understand what’s incomprehensible. This girl was an angel. She came from a good family. Your heart goes out to them.”
“The whole community is just devastated, it’s an awful, horrible thing,” said Barbara Mullany, a local realtor.
The tragedy occurred at around 2:06 a.m. last Sunday morning as Flynn traveled home from her aunt’s wedding reception in a rented limousine with her mother, father, stepfather, sister and grandparents. Along the Meadowbrook Highway, a Chevrolet pickup truck that was traveling northbound in the southbound lane struck them head on. A third vehicle also sustained damage in the collision.
Flynn died instantly, just hours after she had been center of attention as flower girl at her aunt’s wedding. The 59-year-old driver, Stanley Rabinowitz, also died in the crash, which damaged the 2003 Lincoln limousine almost beyond recognition.
“As I crawled out of the car, the only thing that was left of Kate was her head,” Flynn’s mother Jennifer said at a press conference at Winthrop University Hospital last Sunday, where reporters were moved to silence following her harrowing account of the crash.
“I took her — just that — and sat on the side of the Meadowbrook and watched the horrendousness going on around me. I sat there for about an hour with her as they cut my entire family out of this crushed tin can.”
Flynn’s mother was released from Nassau University medical center on Sunday but her five-year-old sister Grace was in critical condition after tearing her spleen in the collision. Flynn’s grandparents, retired police officer Christopher Tangney and Denise Tangney, who is running for city council in Long Beach, were also in critical condition, suffering abdominal and pelvic injuries respectively. Flynn’s father Neil suffered back injuries but was in a stable condition.
Martin Heidgen, the driver of the 1999 Chevrolet, fractured his ankle. New York State police have charged him with two counts of second-degree manslaughter and driving while intoxicated. Heidgen lives in Valley Stream, NY, where he moved from Little Rock, Ark. in October 2004.
“I don’t want people to think this was a car accident. It was so much more than a car accident. Kate was stolen from us. Her life was cut terribly short. But the life that she led — and I want people to know this too — was fabulous. And I don’t blame God. And I know that she’s in a place that is far better than it ever was here and I’m happy that her life will never know any sadness or tragedy or anything. She only had beauty and we’re so grateful for that,” said a tearful Jennifer Flynn on Monday.
“A drunk driver has taken our beautiful, smiling Kate from us,” said Kate Flynn’s uncle and local police lieutenant Michael Tangney, who was one of the first to arrive at the scene.
“It is essential that this crime be punished to the fullest extent of the law to ensure proper retribution and deterrence.”
“You’ve got to pray for this guy too,” Ryan said. “This tragedy is something he needs to live with for the rest of his life.”