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Memorial Bench Donated for Resident Who Died in Car Accident

A Compromise Between Village and Family, Bench Is a Place to Remember

When 19-year-old Kaitlyn Krokowski died on an icy winter night in Farmingdale, her friends and family found solace in visiting the site where she took her last breath. Now, less than a year and a half after her car slid on black ice, hitting a utility pole in Farmingdale Village on Jan. 19, 2009, one local businessman has paid for purchasing and engraving a memorial bench, as a substitute for the pole where Kaitlyn’s friends and family visit.

Phil Fortuna is the president of LI Checker Cab Company and said he donated the money, $2,000 in total, because he wanted to help ease the grief felt by Kaitlyn’s family.

“When I read about it and heard it on the news, I have children myself and it’s a tragic loss no one wants to bury their child, I felt compelled to do something to help,” Fortuna told the Farmingdale Observer.

Village Mayor Butch Starkie said the bench was ordered a few weeks ago and takes six weeks to arrive.

The pole that Kaitlyn’s car hit, and where she died, is located at the entrance of Waldbaum’s on Main Street in Farmingdale Village. Her friends and family visit it frequently, placing flowers, photos, stuffed animals and candles as a way of expressing their emotions and paying their respects.

“They feel closer to her, connected,” when they visit the pole, Kaitlyn’s mother Tina Krokowski told the Observer back in May. “This pole satisfies something. “

But the mayor said he has received numerous complaints about the items on and around the pole since right after the items appeared; residents said the items were a distraction and some said they were a constant sad reminder that they didn’t want to see every time they drove past.

 “I would never say to someone you can’t go there,” Starkie told the Observer. “It’s that the whole appearance of this tribute has degraded somewhat. It’s a distraction. That’s the word that everyone’s using. Some people find it offensive. They believe a cemetery is the place people go to grieve. So you have what some people believe bumping up against what other people expect it to be.”

Back in May, the village and Krokowski discussed using the bench as a place for people to visit and think of Kaitlyn, instead of visiting the pole.

A crowd of Kaitlyn’s friends and family attended a village board meeting in May, pleading with the mayor and village board to allow them to continue placing items at the pole.

Tina Krokowski said at the time that she was willing to accept the bench as the location to pay respects to her daughter but Kaitlyn’s friends and siblings were uneasy with the idea.

“The bench, they feel, doesn’t represent them,” she said then. “They can’t write to her, they can’t bring her something tangible.”

Now Krokowski said she and Kaitlyn’s friends have warmed up to the idea and she is especially grateful to Fortuna for donating the money for the bench.

“It’s very, very nice,” she said. “I’m appreciative and thankful for that.”

Krokowski said although she and the friends have an attachment to the pole, they understand the items at the pole have to wind down a bit.

“The kids are aware of that now,” she told the Observer. “On occasion, they’ll still want to light the candles, they can’t take away their emotional attachment, it’s still going to be there.”

The mayor said the village is planning to furnish Main Street with benches the same style as the memorial bench. Kaitlyn’s bench will have a plaque and will be the closest bench to the accident site, Starkie said.

“I think it would mean a lot to do the bench at the same time as we start winding down the pole,” Starkie said. “We’re just not going in and removing things. I think it’s a very fair compromise. We don’t have intentions of painting the pole but we won’t accept graffiti on some of the municipal property where it’s been popping up.”

Hoping to remember Kaitlyn for the “wonderful person that she was,” her mother wants to put “some words of endearment” on the plaque that will go on the bench.

“She tried to take part in her community as much as she could, she did a little extra here and there,” Krokowski said.

Her mother said that Kaitlyn was always a “defender of the underdog, of the underprivileged,” and that when she was younger, she didn’t fear people who were different and started up conversations with homeless people.

She told a story of when Kaitlyn was around 3 years old she met a young girl who was disfigured. At first when she turned around and saw the little girl she was startled but she turned back around and said, “Hi, I’m Kaitlyn.”

Kaitlyn spent a lot of time doing volunteer work at a nursing home, coaching the Farmingdale Hawks and helping her younger brother, Giovanni, now 11, her mother said. She never missed his class parties at the school, and was an avid blood donor.

“She had a gold card or something because she donated so often,” her mother joked.

In the last few months of her life she was looking for community and charity events to participate in, her mother said.

After Kaitlyn’s death, Tina Krokowski went through her daughter’s car and found her calendar, filled with community events, the Holy Bible, her guardian angel and a Starbucks cup.

“It just showed who she was,” Krowkowski said.