Teen dead after Guilderland crash on Sunday

— Lyn Van Buren

GUILDERLAND — A Guilderland girl is dead after crashing into a tree on a stretch of Hurst Road where two teens were killed in 2000.

Alyssa Gelfand, 17, was driving with fellow Guilderland High School students Sophia Melfe, 16, and Sergio Medina, 17, on Sunday evening at about 8:30 when her Honda CR-V careened off the road and splintered a tree just yards away from the site of the earlier fatal crash.

An aging ceramic angel perched in the branches of the tree that claimed the lives of the teens nearly 20 years ago surveys that section of the road where Gelfand was extricated from her car on Sunday.

Teri Conroy, who lives on Hurst Road, heard the crash and walked as fast as she could to the site. Several neighbors were gathered there and she leaned in the car, cradled Gelfand’s head and held her hand until the paramedics came.

“I talked to her, because I’m a mom,” Conroy said.

First responders had to remove the driver’s door and part of the front of the vehicle to get Gelfand out, according to Altamont Fire Chief Paul Miller, who helped free her after the crash.

Both Melfe and Medina have been discharged from Albany Medical Center, but Gelfand died there on Tuesday night after being airlifted from the scene on Sunday.

Speed appears to have been a factor in the crash, according to Guilderland Police, but Deputy Chief Curtis Cox said that he didn’t know how fast the car had been going.

Teens often speed down Hurst Road to catch air on the hill where Gelfand crashed, say many area residents.

Janina Carabello, 32, said she went to school with Korey Efaw and Melissa Herzog — the two teens who died there in 2000.

She and her friends used to race down Hurst Road often, “in cars, on dirt bikes, or on motorbikes,” Carabello said. Because of the hills, “you’d kind of fly,” she said.

Decades before she was in school, Rob Sigond, 65, who graduated from Guilderland High School in 1970, would speed down the road with friends.

“We cleared all four wheels on full-size cars,” he said, noting that the smaller, lighter cars driven today lose traction more easily than the heavy, steel-framed cars of his youth.

Charles O’Connor lived at 4509 Hurst Road, across the street from the site of the crash, until recently. He said vehicles would hit that hill, known as the “jump,” and briefly be airborne.

Two years ago, he called Guilderland Police to report a car full of kids hanging out of a sunroof, going back and forth over the hill. “They must have been standing on the seat,” he said.

“You have to do about 60 to get the air,” O’Connor said. “I was doing it 45 years ago, and they’re still doing it.”

Lyn Van Buren of Altamont said she knows Hurst Road well, using it sometimes two or three times a day. She was driving on it on Sunday and reached the site shortly after the crash happened.

When she stopped, Melfe and Medina were out of the SUV. First responders were working to get Gelfand out.

 

— from Gabriella Fiederlein
Alyssa Gelfand poses with her friends before going to the prom last year.

 

Van Buren took some pictures, for two reasons: to highlight the excellent work of emergency crews at the scene, getting Gelfand to the hospital alive, and for other teenagers to see, and maybe learn from, the extent of the damage.

“It’s not a dangerous road at the speed limit,” she said, but teenagers too often put thrills over safety.

The speed limit on Hurst Road is 30 mph.

“You can post speed limits until the cows come home — kids are going to be kids,” said Sigond. “All the town has to do is go in there with a bulldozer.”

The road could be re-graded to remove the rise, dip, and hump in the road about 100 feet east of the crashes, said Allan Herchenroder, a retired Guilderland Center volunteer firefighter who lives on Hurst Road.

“It’s a properly designed road for the posted speed,” said Guilderland Supervisor Peter Barber. “You could make the argument that no town roads are made for going 90 miles per hour or more.”

But, Barber said, “given the tragedy,” the town will look into adjusting the road — suggesting that it may be re-graded, made into a one-way street, or cut-off as a dead-end.

He deferred to the judgment of the town’s highway superintendent, Steve Oliver.

Teens know about the hill, Oliver said. “They’ve got some kind of game going with it,” he said. “So we’ll be doing something about it.”

Guilderland High School had counselors on site on Tuesday morning, the first day that classes began after the Memorial Day weekend holiday and students wore purple — Gelfand’s favorite color — and gathered in the gym Tuesday afternoon after school to take a group picture in support of her.

 

— Photo from district public information specialist Aubree Kammler
A tribute organized by students: High-schoolers gathered in the west gym at the end of the day on Tuesday, wearing purple — said to be Gelfand’s favorite color — in a show of support for her.

 

“It’s quiet here,” Superintendent Marie Wiles said Wednesday of the feeling at the high school. “We have counseling services available in the [the Large Group Instruction room], and there’s been a steady stream of students there all day long. There are counselors there, social workers. We even brought one of our therapy dogs over from one of the elementary schools.

“Students are writing messages on a big piece of paper, and wearing purple ribbons in support of Alyssa. They’re in mourning and trying to process their loss,” she said.

Wiles said she thinks Gelfand’s family is planning a private service for her on Friday.

By Wednesday evening, people had left a few bouquets of flowers at the foot of the tree where Gelfand’s SUV crashed. Many of the flowers were purple.

— Andrew Schotz and Saranac Hale Spencer contributed to this story

 

The Enterprise — Andrew Schotz
Bouquets of flowers mark the spot of a crash that happened Sunday evening on Hurst Road. A girl who was driving died two days later. Two passengers were injured.

More Guilderland News

  • So far this school year, the Guilderland school district has had 13 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The district enrolls close to 5,000 students.

  • During the pandemic, many Lynnwood Elementary students had been through “levels of trauma,” said their art teacher, Krista Gillis. She came up with a project that would show them, on their return to school, “They belong here and we love them.”

  • The fifth case, at Guilderland High School, was announced Wednesday in an email from Superintendent Marie Wiles. That last case forced the high school to all-remote learning, beginning on Thursday, Nov. 19, and lasting until Thanksgiving break, which starts on Tuesday, Nov. 24.

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