National News

Town Grieves for a Father and His Four Daughters

Posted July 8, 2018 9:59 p.m. EDT
Updated July 8, 2018 10:00 p.m. EDT

TEANECK, N.J. — The seats in the last pew at the Church of St. Anastasia here were empty during Sunday Mass.

Two bouquets of flowers, five votive candles and two photos lined the bench where the Trinidad family usually sat, a memorial to a father and his four daughters who died in a car accident in Delaware on Friday while returning from a vacation in Maryland.

Audie Trinidad, 61, and his daughters Kaitlyn, 20, Danna, 17, and 14-year-old twins Allison and Melissa were killed when a Ford F-350 pickup truck veered out of its lane on State Route 1 and crossed the grassy median into oncoming traffic, striking the family’s minivan. Mary Rose, the girls’ mother, remained in the hospital in serious condition Sunday. Delaware State Police are still investigating the crash.

The tragedy has stunned this town of 40,000, where the family was tightly woven into the community. Trinidad was an usher at his church. His daughters were volleyball players. The family was active in the Filipino American Society of Teaneck.

A mile and a half from the Roman Catholic parish, on a quiet residential street shaded by tall maple trees, a memorial of flowers, teddy bears and balloons fanned across the front lawn of the Trinidads home. A painting of the family depicted as angelic figures with halos sat on the porch.

Daniel Trinidad, 59, Audie Trinidad’s brother, stood on the porch Sunday afternoon greeting a steady procession of visitors and well-wishers, many of them strangers, in a continuation of a community response that has left him awe-struck.

“He’s a family man,” Trinidad said of his brother, and the outing to Ocean City, Maryland, was typical of the summer trips the Trinidads took.

Audie Trinidad moved to the United States in 1986 and joined the Navy. After serving for seven years, he joined the U.S. Postal Service, where he still worked.

“I still have to call them to let them know,” Daniel Trinidad said, before considering that the news, which he said has traveled as far as the Philippines, might have already reached his brother’s colleagues.

The twins had finished eighth grade at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, Trinidad said, and were preparing to attend Teaneck High School. Their sister Danna had one more year before graduation. The eldest, Kaitlyn, was studying nursing at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in the Bronx, New York, following the career path of her mother, an obstetrics nurse at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in Manhattan.

“All gone in the blink of an eye,” Daniel Trinidad said.

Larry DuHadaway, 43, a firefighter in Maryland and Delaware, was driving his family to the beach in Rehoboth, Delaware, when he saw a truck ahead of him suddenly crossing the median into oncoming traffic. After striking a white car, the truck was T-boned by the van carrying the Trinidads, he said.

“I’ve been in the fire service for 28 years, and that was the worst that I’ve been on, let alone witnessed,” he said.

During the homily at the 11:30 a.m. Mass at St. Anastasia, the service the Trinidad family regularly attended, the congregation rose and each person passed by the family’s pew, many with arms around one another, some in tears.

“It’s hard,” said Kevin Regan, a deacon at the church who delivered the homily. “They’re having a very difficult time. We have a very large Philippine community. They all are active, very active. And as you can see from this 11:30 Mass, there are people honoring their family. It’s going to be a tough, long week.”

On Saturday more than 200 students, parents, family members and friends gathered at Votee Park. The vigil had been planned by friends of the Trinidad children, who posted on Facebook and Instagram.

The memorial began with a prayer and song, as the aching chorus of “Amazing Grace” mixed with sorrowful sobs as neighbors and friends of the children shared memories.

“The twins were my bestest friends since preschool,” said one young woman who didn’t give her name as she spoke. “We used to hang out since we were 3 years old. And to see them leave without saying goodbye is the worst experience in my life.”

Support has poured in from around the state and the country. Gov. Philip D. Murphy, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., and local officials sent statements of support and grief on Saturday. A GoFundMe campaign set up by Linda Douglas, a friend of the family, to help Mary Rose Trinidad, had raised more than $111,000, soaring past the initial goal of $10,000.

Daniel Trinidad said the family’s first priority is to help his sister-in-law. Family members were also preparing to travel to Delaware on Monday to make funeral arrangements.

Another task, Trinidad said, will be to hire a lawyer to represent the family in connection with the crash.

It was a very different future from the one Daniel Trinidad said he and his siblings had imagined, which was to watch their nieces grow up and start families of their own.

“But now that dream is crushed,” he said.

“There are going to be a lot of empty holidays,” Trinidad said. “It won’t be the same without them.”

Outside the family’s home, the same photograph that was taped to their church pew was hanging outside the front door. Trinidad said it was the last picture taken of the family. They had stopped for lunch on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, enjoying crabs and French fries at a roadside stand, just before the crash.