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Ceremony recalls five teens who died in 1996 crash

Family and friends of five teens who died in a 1996 crash on Palmetto Park Road still cry when they talk about their lost loved ones. But they laugh, too.

At a ceremony on Tuesday evening marking the 20-year anniversary of the horrific collision, they recalled middle-school pranks, cigarette smoking and late-night storytelling. They wept over joy-filled lives cut short by a speeding driver, but said they felt the deceased would approve of the path the living have taken.

"I do everything in my life to make her proud," said Emily Slosberg, 34, who was severely wounded in the crash and whose twin sister, Dori, died that night.

On Feb. 23, 1996, seven teens piled into the back seat of a Honda Civic driven by Nicholas Copertino, 19, whom they had met that night at a bowling alley. Copertino sped west on Palmetto Park Road, driving about 90 mph in a 50 mph zone, when he hit the median and crashed into a car heading east. The teens in the back were ejected through the rear window; five died that night, while Emily Slosberg survived with a punctured lung and broken bones. Maribel Farinas, 14, also survived but was paralyzed.

At the ceremony on Tuesday at the Kabbalah Centre, across Palmetto Park Road from the crash site, Irv Slosberg, the twins' father, remembered the night he found out his daughters were in the hospital.

"It's the day I got old," he said.

Susan Walker, mother of Margaux Schehr, 13, who died in the crash, recalled the frequent community gatherings at the crash site with other bereaved families.

"We collapsed into each other's arms," Walker said. "We cried for so long."

The crash deeply affected the futures of many of the teens' friends, who shared remembrances during the ceremony.

Jessica Graham, 34, of Pompano Beach, said her best friend Carolina Gil-Gallego, who died that night, appeared to her in a dream when Graham was pregnant with her daughter. Carolina was holding a red-haired baby; Graham knew this would be the daughter she would give birth to. A few months later, Graham did give birth to a red-haired girl, and named her Caroline in honor of her friend.

"There's not a day that goes by that I don't think of them," Graham said.

Four years after the accident, Irv Slosberg ran for state representative and still serves in the state House; he has made driver safety his priority and has succeeded in getting several bills passed, including allowing drivers and passengers who are not wearing seat belts to be stopped by law enforcement. The Slosbergs also created the Boca Raton-based Dori Slosberg Foundation in 2004 to encourage car safety.

Slosberg said he believes thousands of lives have been saved through the work of the foundation staff and volunteers, who visit schools and other venues to share the story of the crash and urge teens to wear seat belts and refrain from cellphone use while driving.

Such efforts offer some solace to the living. But even 20 years later, parents said they are still searching for the reasons why they lost their teens.

"I would like for someone to tell me how to get over this," said Kathy Hezlep, mother of Ryan Rashidian, 15, who died in the crash. "Sadly, our babies had to pass on in order to save many other people's lives."

 

As originally appeared on Sun Sentinel

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