The lives of a Riverhead family were forever changed by a deadly car accident Monday that claimed the life of 18-year old Katerin Perez Sajbin and injured her mother, younger sister and cousin.
Violeta Sajbin, 40, mother of Katerin — Katy to her friends and family — described, sobbing, the events that led to the death of her eldest daughter.
Monday started as a happy day, Violeta said. She and her 12-year-old daughter Edith Anai, her 22-year-old nephew Franklin Eduardo and Katy were traveling back to Riverhead on the Long Island Expressway from the Guatemalan consulate in Manhattan, where Katy and Edith had been renewing their passports. A simple process, it was a big step in fulfilling Katy’s long-held dream: she would finally be able to apply for her work permit, something the young woman had been waiting for since she emigrated from Guatemala to Riverhead two years ago.
“We were full of joy, happy,” said Violeta. “It was a nice day.”
Suddenly, Violeta said, a collision with another car pushed them towards the guardrail. Violeta who was sitting in the front seat while her nephew Franklin drove, said that she managed to look back at Katy and her younger daughter Edith, grabbed Katy’s hand and told her two daughters “hold on tight. ” Violeta said that she felt the car flipping, and then she blacked out.
“I only remember looking at Katy,” Violeta said, weeping. “That look will forever be etched in my mind.”
According to the Suffolk County Police Department report, the Sajbins were traveling eastbound near Exit 66 on the LIE in a 2004 Jeep Liberty when their vehicle collided with a 2018 Alfa Romeo at about 2:20 p.m. The Jeep hit a guardrail and flipped over the embankment, landing on the service road, according to the police report.
Katy was thrown out of the vehicle. Violeta, who suffered injuries to her head and eye, remained trapped inside the vehicle. She said that when she was able to open her eyes again, she heard voices, including that of her younger daughter and her nephew asking where Katy was. Hurt and disoriented, Violeta was able to free herself from the vehicle to go search for her eldest daughter. It was then, she said, when she saw her lying in the road. Violeta said she rushed to Katy’s side, and felt her heart beating. Desperate, Violeta began to scream for help. By the time the ambulance arrived, it was too late, Violeta said. Katie had passed away. She was taken to Long Island Community Hospital in East Patchogue, where she was pronounced dead, according to the police report.
“It’s a nightmare. God should have taken me,” said a heartbroken Violeta.
Violeta, Edith and Franklin suffered head and back injuries and were transported to Stony Brook University Hospital for treatment. The driver of the Alpha Romeo, 55-year-old David Cohen of Old Bethpage, was not injured, according to the police report.
Violeta described Katy, a senior at Riverhead High School, as a young woman full of joy, with a smile always on her face, respectful and friendly, with expressive eyes and a generous spirit.
Katy was also an exceptional older sister, Violeta said, and she always was looking after her three siblings: 14-year-old Eyvin Noe, 12-year-old Edith, and 3-year-old Geraldine Anifer. She occasionally cooked for them — she especially loved making them a Guatemalan sweet corn and milk drink called “atol de elote.” She would dressing Geraldine and comb her hair and help out with family chores, her mother said.
“I still see her sitting on the edge of the bed, folding her clothes,” Violeta said.
Due to the pandemic and to help Violeta — a single mother employed by Wainscott landscaping company Landscaping Details— Katy decided to opt for remote learning instead of in-person instruction so she could help care for her 3-year-old sister.
“She was always very thoughtful,” Violeta said. “She knew I had struggled with work during the pandemic, and I earn just enough money to pay for rent and food, and she told me, ‘Mom this is what we need to do. I can study from home and take care of the baby so you can save money instead of paying a babysitter,’ ”explained Violeta.
Katy was a very good student, her mother said. She also loved dancing and singing, as well as different sports, such as basketball, volleyball and soccer, which she practiced regularly while growing up in Guatemala. Since her arrival in the United States at age 16, Violeta said that Katy had been devoted to school and she dreamed of studying nursing or criminal justice in college — a dream born of the violence her family experienced firsthand in Guatemala, where gangs hurt Katy’s father and terrorized her family, Violeta said. It was the reason they emigrated to the United States.
“Her dream was to help people. She wanted to get a degree where she could help as many people as possible, her heart was so big and beautiful,” her weeping mother said Violeta. “It hurts my soul to know that I will not see her graduate High School, and I will not see her following her dreams of studying in this country. I would like to go back in time, that we had not gone anywhere, so she would still be here with me, or that God would have taken me instead of her.”
Riverhead School District Acting Superintendent Christine Tona said in a statement that the district “respects the family’s right for privacy, and we extend our deepest sympathies and condolences during this difficult time.”
“A young person’s passing is always tragic, and a sudden loss like this can have a profound effect on the entire community,” Tona said. “Mr. O’Hara, Riverhead High School principal, has implemented our crisis intervention plan, and psychologists, social workers and guidance counselors are available for grief counseling.”
Violeta and her three children are in an extremely difficult situation not only emotionally, but also financially. Earning just enough to make ends meet, Violeta explained she does not have the necessary funds to pay for Katy’s funeral. In addition, she said, she was recently notified the house they have been renting in Riverhead was sold and they must find another place to live by February.
Friends and family are asking the community to help pay for funeral expenses. Two fundraising campaigns have been created, urgently asking the community to donate as little or as much as they can to help the Sajbin family with funeral and other expenses.
Landscape Details, where Violeta works, created a GoFundMe campaign in her name. Click here to donate.
A second fundraising campaign was created on Facebook called “Donations for Katherine.”
Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.
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