Flickering candles illuminated the grief stricken faces of the friends and family of Courtney Sipes on the corner of Main Street and Lawrence Avenue in Smithtown Tuesday evening, the corner where her life was taken exactly one-year ago.
"Courtney was quite the special little angel," said her father, Tracy. "She touched a lot of people in a short amount of time."
Dozens of Smithtown and Hauppauge residents gathered for an emotional candlelight memorial to Courtney Sipes on the corner. The solemn ceremony honored her life and emphasized her family's fight for increased pedestrian safety.
"I hope it's a reminder for people during the holiday season to be careful on the streets, both of those walking and on bicycles," said her mother, Lavena. "This shouldn't have to happen to anyone."
Lavena with her husband, Tracey, and son, Cameron, lit three yellow candles in front of a roadside memorial made of flowers, stuffed animals, a light-up angelic statue and small bookcase filled with children's toys. Family friend Naomi Pierro sang the song "Temporary Home" by Carrie Underwood while candles were lit for a moment of silence.
Courtney was hit and killed by a driver high on heroin on the corner of Main Street and Lawrence Avenue in Smithtown on Nov. 24, 2009. She had been with her family at Cornet Music for a music lesson. The driver, 21-year-old Maureen Lambert, pled guilty to vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident on Oct. 25.
"I think these children's lives are affected by what this driver did. What the driver did not only affects this family, the children and the community but one of the reasons we are all here is to promote driver and pedestrian safety during this holiday season," said Hauppauge resident Paul Borowski.
The Sipes' family and friends have created The Courtney Sipes Memorial Foundation dedicated to an "amazingly creative and inspiring young girl" who loved dance, gymnastics, soccer, softball, swimming, acting and more. The foundation will support children with interests and talents in music or arts with scholarships for programs, lessons and more.
It is currently working on compiling a cookbook that will be called "Cooking for Courtney: Recipes and Memories from Family and Friends" full of recipes and anecdotal memories of Courtney that it will sell in June 2011 to raise funds.
In addition, the Sipes' family is seeking creation of a new law called Courtney's Law that will increase penalties for those that leave the scene of an accident where there is a death of serious injury.
Signs of their work with the Department of Transportation to improve pedestrian safety were evident at the ceremony. Several residents remarked on the new iron fence that serves as a barrier between the roadway and sidewalk on the south side of Smithtown Main Street. Other improvements have included highly visible crosswalks, increased parking restrictions, additional pavement markets, and reduced traffic signal lengths while increasing pedestrian crossing.
"We want to thank everyone for coming out tonight and the wonderful support we've gotten from the community, both Hauppauge and Smithtown," Tracy said.
In the upcoming weeks, Lambert is scheduled appear before Judge Stephen Braslow on Dec. 8 to be sentenced to four to 12 years in prison for the Courtney's death.