Family and friends were devastated to learn that Matthew Taylor Quigley, a 20-year-old graduate of Riverhead High School, lost his life Saturday in a tragic car accident in South Carolina.
Quigley, said Alexander Tuthill Funeral Home Director Ken Rothwell, had just graduated from the Marine Mechanics Institute in Orlando, Florida, and was heading home to Wading River with his girlfriend, Pakee Ristine, who was pregnant with their child.
"He was in a car accident in Columbia, South Carolina," Rothwell said. "He'd just graduated Friday -- he'd packed up the whole vehicle and was heading back to Long Island. They were on their way home."
The couple's unborn baby, Rothwell said, did not survive. "The child was lost in the accident," he said; Ristine, he added, "is not doing well" and remains hospitalized.
Quigley is survived by his heartbroken family, including his mother, Heidi Watson-Wold, his stepfather, Eric Wold, and his father, Joseph Quigley.
His mother said Quigley's friends are mourning his loss. "It's crushing," she said, declining to be interviewed further.
The Riverhead High School faculty was saddened by Quigley's loss and shared memories of the young man who made a forever impression on their hearts.
Riverhead High School Principal David Wicks remembered a young man with dreams. “Matthew Quigley was very passionate about his future," he said. "He made the decision to pursue a career as a marine mechanic and he would not stop until he achieved it. That passion is what led him to Florida to further his education in that area. Aside from his constant pursuit of success, Matt was simply a great person. He had such a positive essence about him. He made everyone around him feel better about themselves. He had a smile for everyone and I cannot ever remember seeing him upset."
Wicks added, "We here at Riverhead High School are devastated by this tragic loss. Matt left a lasting impression on his teachers, administrators, and fellow students. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
Science teacher Anita Guarino said she will always remember Quigley's "gentle, cooperative," nature, describing him as a "gentleman, in the old-fashioned sense," who had a "light-up-the-room smile and "an easygoing, helpful," nature and spirit. "I don't trust words to do justice to this tragic loss of youth and unfulfilled dreams for Matt and his family," she said.
Two educators, Shelley Sancton, who teaches marine biology, and special education teacher Cynthia Woschnik remembered their former student. "Mrs. Sancton and I have wonderful memories of Matt," said Woschnik. "He loved marine biology. He had a fish tank and had huge goldfish that he took such great care of. He knew so much about the water and boating."
Quigley, she said, "looked forward to graduating and going to Florida to work with boats and to be on the water." Even after an operation he had during high school, "when he was in pain recovering from surgery, he had a good attitude, a smile on his face and was looking forward to enjoying life," Woschnik added. "He was very helpful with other students or with anything that a teacher needed. He also loved his animals. He looked forward to working on his marine motors and cruising off into the sunset. He will be missed."
"This is so tragic," said Riverhead Central School Superintendent Nancy Carney. "Everyone who knew Matt says he was such a terrific person. My heart goes out to his family and friends."
Visitation will be held on Wednesday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. at the Alexander-Tuthill Funeral Home, located at 6447 Route 25A, in Wading River.
A funeral service will follow at the funeral home at 8 p.m., with cremation private.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Matthew's memory to the SoundWaters Organization, an organization dedicated to protecting the Long Island Sound through education. To donate, go to Soundwaters.org and select the donate tab in the upper right hand corner of the page.