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16-year-old student mourned by droves

Teenagers weep as prayers are said during a vigil for St. Francis Preparatory student Daniel Fernandez. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

Grieving friends and family of 16-year-old St. Francis Preparatory school student Daniel Fernandez, who died in an unimaginable accident on a party bus Friday, gathered at Kearns Funeral Home in Rego Park Monday to begin the difficult process of saying goodbye.

“It’s horrible,” said 15-year-old Isabella Ricciardi, a friend of Fernandez, who was at the wake.

“I loved him so much,” she said, tearing up. “He always put a smile on everyone’s face, he could always manage to make anyone happy when they were sad. He had such a good heart.”

She said she also was close to Fernandez’s cousin, Megan Fernandez, and had known Daniel for about four years. She said she was in North Carolina with Megan and her family and Daniel’s older sister, Carolina, when they got the call to come home and learned the next day that Daniel had died.

Isabella said her cousin told her the family was holding up. She said Daniel’s sister, who is 18, was supposed to attend her first day at Long Island University the day of the wake but pushed it back to Tuesday.

Isabella said talking to others about what happened was helping her through as well as “just remembering all the good times that I’ve had with him.”

Fernandez, of Woodside, died Friday after sticking his head through the escape hatch of a double-decker party bus and hitting the underside of an underpass, according to the Port Authority.

The Designer Limousines bus was on its way from St. Francis Prep in Fresh Meadows to a Sweet 16 party in Garfield, N.J., with 65 students on board, said Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman. News reports said the students were dancing on the bus and a security guard had repeatedly told them to stay away from the escape hatch. When the security guard went to the first level to tell the driver it was getting too hot a few short minutes later, he heard screaming from upstairs, the New York Post reported.

Coleman said the double-decker bus was headed for Route 95 near Fort Lee, N.J., when Fernandez struck his head against the underside of the Fletcher Avenue overpass at 6:30 p.m.He was taken to Hackensack University Medical Center where he was pronounced dead, Coleman said.

Bergen County, N.J., prosecutors will make a determination about whether any charges will be filed, he said.

The St. Francis Prep school community also gathered to grieve and reach out to each other for comfort at a candlelit vigil held at the Fresh Meadows Catholic school Saturday night.

Following a private service inside the school’s chapel, teenagers proceeded to the corner of Francis Lewis Boulevard and Horace Harding Expressway, where they placed lit candles in front of a statue of the school’s patron saint.

As prayers were said, several students began to sob loudly.

Mourning friends and fellow classmates recalled a good-humored teenager who got along with everyone.

Madden McDonagh, 16, who went to Our Lady of Hope Catholic School with Fernandez from fifth- to eighth-grade, said he was always kidding around and, despite initially being a newcomer to the school, was instantly accepted by his peers, which she said was uncommon.

She brought a picture of Fernandez at the eighth-grade prom with the words “His life was a gift taken too soon” written on it.

“I still can’t believe it,” McDonagh said. “I’m just shocked .... I would never have expected something like this to happen.”

Natasha Narine, 36, a parent of a 16-year-old at the school, said her daughter had a locker next to Fernandez’s through 10th-grade and knew him for about two years.

“She’s a little traumatized,” she said. “All I can do is give some comfort.”

“I didn’t know Daniel’s parents, but I can just imagine,” she added. “My heart goes out to them.”

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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