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A town mourns as bride-to-be is buried Mother is killed two days before wedding in tragic head-on collision

Two days before Debra L. Richards was supposed to walk down the aisle, family and friends buried the 38-year-old mother.

The funeral for Richards, who was killed in a head-on accident Sunday morning on the Youngmann Highway caused by another motorist driving the wrong way, was held Thursday in Lewiston.

"She was so upbeat and so thrilled with this new chapter of her life with her fiance," said Youngstown Mayor Neil C. Riordan. "This is one of the saddest days for village and town residents."

Richards, a popular Youngstown bartender and delivery service driver with a 20-year-old son, was headed to pick up her fiance, Joseph Scarfone of Youngstown, at the time of the accident.

Riordan, who was to officiate Richards' wedding on Saturday afternoon, described her as energetic, known for "her terrific service and her incredible smile."

The six-vehicle accident that took Richards' life also killed Justin L. Martin, 30, of Maryvale Drive, Cheektowaga.

Town of Tonawanda police said Martin was driving a Jeep westbound in the eastbound lanes of the Youngmann Highway, near the Colvin Boulevard exit ramp, at about 4:10 a.m.

His vehicle hit Richards' head-on. Four others were injured in the crash, two of whom declined treatment at the scene.

About three minutes before the accident, Amherst police received a call about a Jeep traveling the wrong way in the eastbound lanes.

Police said fog present at the time of the crash and a curve in the road reduced visibility.

Martin had a previous conviction for driving while ability impaired, according to police.

On June 1, 2003, at about 2:40 a.m., Martin flipped his car on the Kensington Expressway, admitting to the arresting officer he had recently drank alcohol, said Cheektowaga Police Capt. John Glascott.

The arrest report indicates Martin told officers his car began to slide sideways, struck the concrete median and rolled over. The vehicle came to rest on its roof, Glascott said.

Police are awaiting results of Martin's autopsy and toxicology tests, and have said they have no definitive evidence about any role alcohol may have played in Sunday's crash.

Town of Tonawanda Police Lt. Nick Bado said investigators have received several reports from witnesses who said they saw Martin at various locations in the hours before the crash.

Information in those statements is not available for release, Bado said Thursday.

Richards had her driver's license suspended after a June 11 incident in which she was suspected of committing "some sort of alcohol infraction," said Department of Motor Vehicles spokesman Ken Brown.

While further details were not immediately available on the incident, Richards was allowed to drive under certain conditions, including driving to work, school or medical appointments, Brown said.

For 16 years, Richards had worked at the Stone Jug, also known as the Ontario House, on Main Street in Youngstown. She worked as both a waitress and bartender during that time.

Richards' Saturday wedding was planned for a gazebo on the Youngstown waterfront.

"The virtually hundreds and hundreds of friends and associates that she had are just in total mourning," said Riordan, the Youngstown mayor. "As I am."

e-mail: abesecker@buffnews.com

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