The heart of Mount Sinai still aches, and for those who attended a vigil at Cedar Beach for the four recent deaths of their community members, tears could be seen behind the dark of sunglasses.
On Tuesday, July 30, well over 100 community members came together at Cedar Beach West to celebrate the lives of three young Mount Sinai natives who perished in a single car crash along Mount Sinai-Coram Road July 9. Dorien Lashea Brown, 23, of Mount Sinai; Rebecca Minunno, 24, of Hampton Bays and Casi Fricker, of Port Jefferson, all died as the SUV they were driving hit a utility pole, which toppled over the vehicle and the electricity caused the car to catch on fire.
“I never pictured this is where we’d be, I would lose my closest friends,” said Gianna Rubino, a friend of the girls. “Everyone’s lives have been flipped upside down.”
As residents were still trying to come to terms with their deaths, the community experienced another loss. Robert Grable, the principal of the local high school, died unexpectedly while doing his morning routine July 19. He was 49.
Families and friends laid out near the bluff spread a collage of photographs, showing the girls and the principal in the prime of their lives. Friends and close family members came forward to speak, remembering the girls as the youth they were. Brown was often called a “firecracker” who could make a person laugh with just a look. Fricker was called “strong,” willing to make sure her friends were treated well at hair salons and the like, and also having a unique way with animals.
“Casi and Dorien, you were iconic, you were both so bright,” said Nicole Branca. “You had the kind of energy that some of us just could not keep up with, and I think that’s what we loved about you.”
Minunno had become active in the retro model pinup scene with The Luscious Ladies, a group of vintage pinup enthusiasts with chapters across the world.
One of those who spoke, who goes by the name “Dizzy Doll” in the pinup world, said the entire community was mourning her.
“When a pebble is thrown in a lake, the entire lake is affected. Every life has a wider effect in people’s lives then we realize,” she said. “Becca was and still is an inspiration to us.”
Renee Petrola, a retired teacher in Mount Sinai, taught both Brown and Fricker, and read the poems they wrote for a contest in sixth grade, both titled “How did I change?”
The vigil was organized by a small community group dubbed the “angel squad,” which included several community members and best friends of the girls who passed. Opening remarks were made by Donna Murph, the lead planner for the squad who had been guidance counselor to Brown and longtime coworker of Grable.
“Mount Sinai is profoundly saddened by the loss of these four beautiful souls,” Murph said. “May these families feel the support and love of this community and a reminder they are never alone.”
A few stepped forward in the grey twilight and bending over they laid their flowers in the gentle tide of the Sound. First, a little more than five came forward. Then, unbidden, members of the families came forward to the beach’s edge. The Brown family kneeled over, and sank their flowers into the Sound. Their heads low, then rising, they tossed theirs into the water.
The faces turned to the waning sunset and walked forward, first 10, then well over 100. They were largely silent, except for the music in the background and their soft murmurs, muttering memories of the loved ones they lost.
As the sky went dark, the families attempted to light floating lanterns for their deceased though the wind played against them. The Brown family managed to get theirs lit, and the lantern rose 20 feet up, hovering above the surf before gently sinking into the water, the light of the lantern’s fire staying lit for several minutes, even on the black waters of the Sound.
Stepping forward to speak, Joe Caggiano said he had worked with Fricker at the Jamesport Brewery, adding he came to see her as his closest friend at work. The day of July 9 was one they shared with laughs, also having talked on the phone with Minunno, making a joke by saying “hi” to each other, over and over.
“We had a lot of fun on that Monday — she laughed a lot,” he said.
They shared a beer with each other after work, where they spoke about “life, where we wanted to be, what we wanted to do and the people in our lives, and all those things … that was a really special time in getting to sit with her.”
Ciaria Colson, Brown’s cousin, then came up to the mike, and talked of her family member as the pinnacle of what being a friend could be.
“She made a point to have a relationship with each and every one of her friends,” she said. “My little cousin was nine years younger than me, but she inspired me … me and my cousins have a closer bond now because of her.”
Colson asked all her friends to step up and come together. They gathered together, nearly 20 in all. She asked them all to hold each other and to support each other.
“I want you guys in this time, to grab a hold of each other, support each other and develop relationships with each other,” she said. “If you have a close relationship, have a closer relationship … because I know I didn’t live my best life — I didn’t live it, my cousin lived it.”