By HEATHER NELLIS
Recorder News Staff
Support services were offered to the community this week after Sunday's tragic car wreck claimed the lives of three members of an Amsterdam family, while a toddler fights for her life in an Albany hospital.
Grief counselors were on hand Tuesday for Greater Amsterdam School District students, who lost a peer in the crash, while first responders had a debriefing session Monday so they could talk to one another about the gruesome scene.
Nine-year-old Elijah Sleight was a fourth grader at the Marie Curie Institute of Engineering and Technology. Sleight, his mother Tanya Sleight, and her girlfriend Shyara Concepcion were all Amsterdam residents fatally injured Sunday when their vehicle was struck head-on by a van on Route 67, police said.
Tanya Sleight and Concepcion were pronounced dead at the scene, and Elijah passed away Monday, according to family, and officials at Albany Medical Center.
Elijah's seven-year-old brother, Matthew Sleight, is a second grader at Curie. He suffered only minor injuries, but Elijah and two-year-old sister Naomi Sleight were airlifted to Albany Medical Center after the crash.
Naomi is still listed in critical condition late Tuesday afternoon, according to hospital staff.
For the emergency personnel who responded to the scene Sunday, it was one of the worst they've ever seen, said Hagaman Fire Chief Donny Reksc.
"It was very tragic scene, but the fact there were kids made it worse," Reksc said. "Pretty much everyone in the department has kids, so it really hits you hard, having helpless kids in a car. A fatal accident is always hard, but a triple fatal, and another child fighting for her life ... the amount of injuries made it hard to comprehend."
Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Adam Schwabrow said given the circumstances, responders were called together at the Hagaman fire house Monday to meet with the county's Critical Incident Stress Debriefing Team.
Duane Miller, who serves on the team, said in scope, the sessions aren't grief counseling, rather allot opportunities for responders to talk to one another by capitalizing on pre-existing relationships.
"They already have good relationships with one another, and they can use that asset to help them get through their feelings," Miller said. "People might be reluctant at first, but it gets people thinking what they're going through is not unique, and the reaction they might have is normal, given the level of tragedy."
"Whether someone is a firefighter or a paramedic, they're still human, still a person," Reksc said. "It was good to get everyone together so they could tell what they did at the scene, and express their feelings. Some might be holding it inside, so it's a good way to get it off their chests, and a good way for everyone to cope."
"But we're resilient, which is why we're in this line of work," Reksc added. "When the next call comes in, we'll get on that truck and take care of what we've got to take care of."
In addition to grief counseling at Curie during the school day Tuesday, the school district also held a support session in the evening.
The district received notice from the children's father about Elijah passing away. Perillo said Elijah and Matthew spent their entire respective education in Amsterdam schools.
"We've had them since kindergarten," he said. "Everyone is certainly moved by the tragedy, and we wanted to make sure to provide everyone with the services they need."
The district has provided literature on its website as a resource for parents and guardians seeking assistance on talking to children about death. It can be accessed at http://www.gasd.org/academics.cfm?subpage=853053, or by visiting the "news" section on the district's home page at www.gasd.org.