By Ali Arduini
It was a community’s worse nightmare on Saturday night: A car holding four local high-school students was unexpectedly hit by another vehicle, pushing it through three lanes into the median and flipping it. Two students were immediately killed, while the other two suffered severe injuries. The driver of the stricken vehicle was Chris Stewart, captain of the Shenendehowa football team in Clifton Park, NY. He, along with softball player Deanna Rivers, another Shenendehowa High School student, died instantly in the collision. Matthew Hardy, also a Shenendehowa student and athlete and Rivers’ boyfriend, was immediately taken to Albany Medical Center with friend Bailey Wind, a senior at Shaker High School in Colonie, NY and Stewart’s girlfriend.
The other driver in the accident was Dennis Drue, a 22-year-old who was speeding on the Thruway before striking Stewart’s car. At the scene of the accident Drue tested positive for alcohol; however, further tests proved that he was under the legal limit. Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy says that it would be unethical for him to disclose Drue’s exact level, and tests still need to be done to see if anything else was in his system at the time of the crash. Authorities are holding off charging Drue until all the evidence and tests come back from the crash. Drue faces possibly felony charges of vehicular homicide or manslaughter.
While authorities still wait on results from the lab tests, some good news was received on Monday night, two days after the crash. Friend of Matt Hardy and a fellow Shen student, Willy Stevenson began a twitter campaign to try to get NFL football star Tim Tebow to call Hardy while he was recovering in the hospital. He tweeted at Tebow, “@TimTebow 518-XXX-XXXX My friend was in an accident and his two best friends were killed. He is your biggest fan.” He then started the hash tag “TebowCallMatt” which eventually went viral thanks the number of people in the capital district who participated in this trending topic. A new account named TebowCallMatt was even started to promote the campaign and get as many “Retweets” as possibly so that Tebow could see it and call Hardy. The topic was retweeted by so many people that it became the third most trended topic in the world, being tweeted even by Yankees relief pitcher Joba Chamberlain. Tebow, of course, saw the campaign and called the recovering student, who was more the appreciative and ecstatic to receive the call. Tebow later tweeted, “Matt truly inspired me. God bless y’all.”
Bailey Wind, recovering from the accident with Hardy, also received a surprise call from a famous athlete. After #TebowCallMatt began to trend, Wind’s friends began to hash tag #MissyCallBailey, to attempt to get Olympian Missy Franklin to call their friend. Like Hardy’s campaign, the topic eventually went viral to the point where it would have been impossible for Franklin not to see it if she was on the social media site. She did acknowledge the tweets by all of her supporters, and called Wind. Wind, being in critical condition at the time, could not directly speak with Franklin but she did listen to the encouraging voice mail left by her. Franklin tweeted shortly after the call, “Called Bailey and left her a voicemail. Would still love to talk to her. Bailey and her community are in my thoughts and prayers #staystrong.” A little less than a week after Wind was finally able to call Franklin back, and they were able to speak to each other. Franklin tweeted about it after the call: “Finally got to talk to Bailey. Wow! I'm speechless. That young woman is truly a gift from God. What an inspiration. #IloveBailey.”
It was incredibly heart-warming to see such a small community deliver a message that reached astronomical heights through the use of social media and support. However, although a very inspiring experience, the victims and the families still continue to mourn the loss of two exceptional students at their school. A candle-lit vigil was held on Tuesday night to honor them and help the community to support each other. The friends of Stewart and Rivers also asked all of the schools in the capital district to wear green in honor of the victims. The other schools not only agreed to do this, but they also sent cards and flowers to Shenendehowa, and many even raised money to support the scholarships and funds formed in honor of the victims and their families. It was an extremely tragic week for the community, one that will certainly take a lot of time for people to recover from. The town may never be the same, but their support shows that if they come together they can be stronger, and help each other get through such a terrible situation.
Born and raised in Albany, NY, Ali Arduini is a sophomore at St. Thomas Aquinas College, majoring in English and minoring in Communication Arts. She works as a tutor during the week at her college and as a waitress on the weekends. When she’s not in school she enjoys hanging out with her friends, writing, and reading Jane Austen classics. She hopes to one day make it as an editor, publisher, or writer.