A day after an SUV smashed into a glass-plated storefront and plowed through the Chabad Chanukah Wonderland celebration in Woodmere, L.I., members of the Chabad-Lubavitch community were picking up the pieces from the shattering mess that ruined holiday festivities.
Reached in the early hours of Friday morning, CrownHeights.Info editor Ben Lifshitz described the scene Thursday afternoon as one of utter “chaos.”
Frantic parents searched everywhere for their children who had been playing together during the time of the collision, thankful that there were no fatalities, Lifshitz said. Fourteen people ranging in age from 18 months to 40 were injured in the crash.
Theodore Saretsky, 76, from Atlantic Beach, was heading northbound on Broadway when he lost control of his blue BMW X3. The car rammed a parked vehicle onto the sidewalk and then continued into the store, where 150 people had gathered for the annual Chanukah celebration, according to reports from the Nassau County Police Department. Victims were quickly shuttled to local hospitals, with the help of the New York City Police Department Helicopter, the Suffolk County Police Department Helicopter and local ambulances, said Commanding Officer Det./Lt. Kevin Smith.
Most of those injured were in stable condition Thursday. Saretsky was treated and released from the hospital, police said. While the investigation is ongoing, police cannot yet determine a definitive cause for the vehicle’s loss of control and resulting crash.
Inside the storefront Thursday, Legos from a menorah-building table were strewn all over the floor, along with bricks, pieces of rubble, glass shards and splatters of blood, said Lifshitz. He arrived on the scene 40 minutes after the incident. With 10 other men from Crown Heights and Borough Park, Lifshitz came as a member of Brooklyn-based organization Chesed Shel Emes; the group rushed to the scene to collect blood should any fatalities have occurred. According to Jewish tradition, he explained, all body parts must be buried with the dead when possible.
Lifshitz said the crash could have easily resulted in fatalities. He said parents had periodically been sitting in chairs set up against the wall where the car struck. “If someone was sitting in those chairs at the time the SUV came into the window, guaranteed fatalities,” he said.
The Woodmere accident comes only four weeks after tragedy struck the Chabad Nariman House in Mumbai, India, just as the Chabad community had begun to rebuild its strength and move forward from the terror attacks. By Thursday afternoon in India, Chabad rabbis and the parents of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg were already lighting menorahs in front of the damaged Chabad house and the Gateway to India monument, alongside Indian dignitaries, according to Chabad spokesman Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin.
Rabbi Zalman Wolowik, director of Chabad of the Five Towns, told Newsday Thursday that counselors will be available to anyone in need of support.
“Our first priority at this time is to make sure that everyone is taken care of by medical personnel and that all of the children are safe,” he said.