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Grieving on campus Hilbert pays homage to sophomore killed by hit-run driver

The students gathered around a young flowering pear tree, freshly planted next to a pond, in memory of one of their own.

The planting and memorial service were held Monday afternoon at Hilbert College for Meghan Sorbera, the 19-year-old Hilbert student who was killed during the early morning hours of Oct. 18 in a hit-and-run accident on South Park Avenue.

More than 250 people from the Hamburg college and local community showed up to pay their respects.

"We feel like we have extended family now," said Sorbera's father, Peter.

Sorbera and his wife, Susan, made the trip to Hamburg from their home in Burlington Flats, near Cooperstown, where funeral services for their daughter were held Friday.

After Monday's memorial at Hilbert, the Sorberas talked to reporters about living through the tragedy of the previous 11 days.

"I hope no one has to experience this -- ever, ever, ever," Peter Sorbera said. "It's a parent's worst nightmare."

Their daughter wasn't even supposed to be in Hamburg the night she was struck and killed while walking back to campus with friends after working at a haunted house on the Erie County Fairgrounds.

"She was supposed to come home that weekend," her mother said.

"But this is where she wanted to be," her father said.

The Sorberas didn't want to say a lot about the case against John P. Duffy, the 41-year-old lawyer from Orchard Park charged with leaving the scene of the fatal crash.

But they raved about the detective work by Hamburg police that led to Duffy's arrest. They described themselves as relieved that someone has been charged and said they would become vocal advocates for stronger punishment for drivers in hit-and-run cases.

They also are angry.

"This gentleman took my daughter," Peter Sorbera said.

But overwhelmed by the outpouring from Hilbert and the local community, the Sorberas tried Monday to focus the attention on their daughter, a sophomore at the college.

Described as a natural runner, she was on Hilbert's cross country team last year, but two achy knees prompted her to take a break this year.

While she was on her high school cross country team, she would finish the race and then double back to run the course with her friend and teammate to encourage her.

She didn't like the spotlight and always cheered for the underdog.

"That was Meghan," her father said.

She had a close relationship with her mother, and the two were referred to as "partners in crime," who would hold tight to shared secrets or take off for hours to go shopping.

She enjoyed holidays and dressing up, so Halloween was one of her favorite times of the year.

"She just loved to be different than everyone else, but everyone liked that about her," said Daniel Dollinger, a senior at Hilbert who served as her residential adviser last year. "She was just a very nice girl, just an awesome person to be around."

She also loved children. While in high school, she volunteered in a kindergarten class. Her teacher encouraged her to pursue teaching as a career, but she had other plans.

She picked Hilbert to study forensic science, even though her father wanted her to stay closer to home.

But the couple had noticed changes in their daughter since arriving at Hilbert and thought she was just starting to come into her own. She was more independent, more assertive.

"The best was yet to come with her. There's no doubt," her father said. "We'll never see that, I guess. We'll never know."

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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