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Remembering Heidi: 7 Years After Tragic Ambulance Crash, Love Heals

Today, the Behr family finds joy in Heidi's little boy, who has helped to heal their broken hearts.

The scene in the sunny, light-filled living room is familiar -- two proud grandparents playing with their grandson, cuddling him and dancing him happily around the room.

But June and John Behr are not just any grandparents. Their story is one of indomitable strength, courage, and a love so strong that it has withstood the greatest of heartbreaks -- the death of their beloved daughter.

Almost seven years after a horrific ambulance crash on Main Road in Aquebogue took the lives of emergency responder Heidi Behr, 23, and William Anthony Stone in May, 2005, her heartbroken parents are raising her son, Jared, who is now 8 years old.

When Heidi died, she left behind her little baby, who was only 15 months old, and severely disabled, with cerebral palsy and epilepsy, and who is also legally blind. 

The years since their daughter's death have been steeped in tragedy -- June Behr also lost both parents and her sister -- but it is Jared who has given the Behr family, including Heidi's sister, Dana, the strength to go on.

"He's a blessing," said June. "He is the glue that keeps us together."

Added John Behr, "We are so lucky to have him. He's a bundle of joy."

Heidi and her partner were treating a heart attack victim at the time of the accident and were not wearing seat belts; the driver and patient, who were belted securely, survived. 

Rocked by tragedy, the Riverhead community came together, with members of Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corp, Inc., the Riverhead Volunteer Fire Department, where John served for 21 years, and scores of community members organizing countless fundraisers to help the Behr family.

Just last year, the Behrs moved into June's parents' farmhouse in Cutchogue. The home was remodeled with an elevator and other features to facilitate caring for Jared -- and the revamp was another shining example of small-town spirit and heart.

"The outpouring we had, it just warms you up," said June. "So many good people."

Spearheaded by two dear friends, Chuck Thomas and Richie Thomas, the work on remodeling the home was done at a fraction of the cost, with dozens of volunteers and businesses "sharpening their pencils" to cut expenses, many donating time and supplies.

"I never thought I would have a home like this," June said, gazing around the wide, brightly lit rooms adorned with photos of Heidi -- including one of Heidi and Jared at his first birthday party. Looking back, June said she is glad the party was a special one, held at a restaurant, because it was the only birthday Heidi got to spend with her son.

Doting grandparents, John and June fill Jared's life with therapeutic horseback riding at IRIE in Riverhead, and swim lessons -- he, like his mother, loves the water. Heidi, her parents say, was the first one in the pool every season and had a penchant for frogs.

Jared attends Eastern Suffolk BOCES in Westhampton and, while raising a disabled child has challenges, the Behrs think of Jared as their greatest gift, a piece of Heidi left behind to love. "He holds us together," said John. "Where would we be without him?"

Once, someone commented that if Jared were too difficult to care for, there were institutions for disabled children. "I told him we've never thought of him as a burden -- we have always thought of him as a blessing," June said. "He's a wonderful little boy."

And in her son, there are glimpses of Heidi. "He has certain expressions -- you can see Heidi in him," said June. Dana, Heidi's sister, said he and Heidi share the same double jointed thumb.

Dana, her parents say, is devoted to her nephew. And while John worries about the day when he is gone, and no longer able to care for Jared, both he and June are secure that Dana will look after her sister's son.

Today, June and John hope to give back, to keep Heidi's memory alive by a scholarship in her name that is funded through an charitable organization, Heidi's Helping Angels, founded by former Riverhead Town Supervisor James Stark.

Fundraisers, such as a steak dinner event held at Polish Hall last September, have enabled the Behrs to give four $2,000 scholarships this year to students at either Riverhead or Mercy High Schools. The scholarships will be awarded on the basis of community service, in honor of their daughter, who gave her life while giving back to others.

It was something Heidi would have done herself, June noted. Even when she was a struggling single mother, she donated $50 to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital Today, on Jared's birthday, the Behrs donate $50 to the organization in her memory.

Married for 33 years, the Behrs' love is evident as they gaze at Jared. Tragedy can tear couples apart, June said. Holding Jared in their arms, she added, "If anything, it's brought us closer."

Heidi, she added, lives on, in her son and in their lives. "She's with us," she said.

Debra Peters (Debbie Hernandez) April 07, 2012 at 03:31 PM
As time goes on, some of us probably have forgotten about this tragedy, with the excpetion of the Heidi's family and friends. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers and let this be a reminder to be thankful for those around us. BIRTHDAY WISHES to JARED :)
Lisa Finn (Editor) April 07, 2012 at 03:59 PM
Debbie, thank you for your comment. As a reporter, I covered this tragedy years ago and I have never forgotten Heidi. Although we never met, I have thought of her every time I passed the site of the accident, which was, for so long, adorned with flowers and stuffed frogs. Most of all, though, writing this story about her parents and her son, what struck me most is their infinite strength and boundless love for Jared. They have chosen to honor Heidi's memory with scholarships for community service -- so her legacy of giving back to others lives on.
Debra Peters (Debbie Hernandez) April 07, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Lisa, I am sure it was more than devasting for anyone that responsed and that was involved at the scene of the accident. I am sure all of those people (including yourself) have never forgotten. I forgot to mention that all of the the EMS worker's Fire Department Members, and anyone that helped out should be commended for their time and service. There are not enough words to describe the courage and strength that Jared's Grandparents have. Jared is so fortunate to have such loving people in his life, just as they are to have Jared's life in theirs. Even though I did not know Heidi, this story touched my heart because my son is a volunteer EMT in a different town, yet he had the pleasure of meeting Heidi at Riverhead Ambulance. All of these volunteers put their lives at risk helping others. Thank you Heidi for bringing this story to light.
GLENN April 07, 2012 at 04:52 PM
God Bless that family
Lisa Finn (Editor) April 07, 2012 at 05:34 PM
Debbie, When I wrote the story about Heidi after the accident, so many people poured out their hearts to help her family. What a wonderful group of EMS and firefighters live and work in Riverhead, and in every town. True heroes. Thank you for your comment, Ann Marie. . . .
Jessica Sypher April 08, 2012 at 09:40 AM
I can not believe that it has been almost 7 years since we lost a truly amazing, caring, admirable, kind hearted, trustworthy and an all around wonderfully warm, beautiful angel <3 I have Heidi to thank for me joining the ambulance and working in EMS because her hard work, dedication and her willingness to put others before herself are what inspired me to now do what I do. There isnt a day that goes by that I dont think about Heidi and the fun times that we had in high school & in ROTC and I can honestly say that because I knew her, I have been changed for the better <3 Love and miss you Heidi Jean, till we meet again <3 <3
sharon miller May 03, 2012 at 05:38 PM
I grew up with her in Riverhead and it breaks my heart to find out that she has left us so young. Her family, her son and all the Riverhead Emergency respondents are in my prayers always. She is a Hero and an angel now looking down on us all and protecting her son and the community still.
Lisa Finn (Editor) May 03, 2012 at 05:49 PM
Thank you, Sharon. Heidi was very loved and it was an honor to speak to her family and tell their inspiring story.

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