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Family mourns death of boy, 3, in Delaware Park tragedy

The sun was shining on a bright, warm Saturday morning as Mary Sugorovskiy walked through Delaware Park with her two children, 3-year-old Maksym and 5-year-old Stephanie.

Mary and her son had just finished watching Stephanie, a happy little girl, play a soccer match with Delaware Soccer Club, and the family was strolling leisurely through the park back to their car. Mary stopped to let the kids swap places.

That’s when the unthinkable happened, instantly changing their lives, and abruptly ending Maksym’s.

A Chevy Malibu, whose driver remains unidentified, barreled across the grassy divide from the Scajaquada Expressway onto the Ring Road where Mary and her children were standing, striking them before they could react. Maksym was killed. Stephanie was taken to Women & Children’s Hospital, in critical condition, with two fractured legs and a broken wrist. She is expected to recover.

Mary and her husband, Wally, along with a close-knit family of cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents, are left mourning their loss and coping with their grief.

“Mary has had obviously the 24 worst hours of her life,” said her uncle, Mark Cantor, who acted as a spokesman for the large extended family in a private interview with The Buffalo News on Sunday evening at the hospital. “She told me really this morning that she does not have any physical capability of shedding any more tears. There’s only so many tears, although her heart and mental well-being is obviously affected by the worst-imaginable tragedy.”

Cantor said his niece, who had a frightening experience being stranded during the November snowstorm, was just talking early Saturday morning about being “happy for what she has” and “grateful for the fact that she has a wonderful family and two little kids.”

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Now the family’s attention is focused on Stephanie, who “is doing better,” Cantor said. She successfully came through surgery on both her legs late Saturday evening, and did not suffer any internal injuries or impact to her spine, he said. Doctors are still a little concerned about some possible neurological effects, “but it has been improving over the last 24 hours.”

Her little eyes fluttered open last night, Cantor said, though she’s still not fully conscious and aware.

“We were terrified last night, and I think at 10:43 p.m., we all sat around the bed and watched her eyes open, and it was a beautiful thing,” Cantor said. “It’s going to be a slow process, the grasping of the hand, the toes wiggling here and there. It’s going to be a gradual thing, and that’s to be expected. Hopefully, neurologically she’ll be OK. It’s going to be a long road orthopedically, of course, but the doctors have been fantastic here.”

But there’s still the trauma of losing her little brother. Cantor said the siblings were very close and called Stephanie a “wonderful child, who’s really smart and mature for her age.”

“She’s lost her brother, and she’s going to be 6 in August,” Cantor said, reflecting on the two-year separation between his own children, now adults. “There’s been a lot of love and support here. If anybody’s going to be able to pull through this emotionally, it’s going to be her. That’s all we can hope for.”

The family has started an official fundraising site to help pay for medical and related needs, at http://www.gofundme.com/maksym. A rally and march will be held Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Delaware Park, at the Hunter and the Dog statue on the Ring Road.

“All of our thoughts and prayers are with them,” said Dan Donovan, president of the Delaware Soccer Club, which has 1,200 children ages 3 to 19. “It’s just a tragic situation. Anytime you lose a child, it’s terrible.”

Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown said he spent time Saturday with the family at Sisters Hospital, where Maksym had been taken, and at Women & Children’s Hospital, where they huddled either in Stephanie’s room or in a nearby conference room in the waiting area, secluded for privacy. Both sets of the children’s grandparents and other family members were present at the hospital, Brown said. “It is a close family,” he said. “The family was receiving a lot of support from their other family members.”

At a news conference late Sunday afternoon, Brown asked Western New Yorkers to “hold the family up in prayer,” saying “our heart goes out to the family.”

“The family would like to thank the City of Buffalo residents for the outpouring of love and support given to them at this most difficult time,” family spokeswoman Rachel Cantor, Mark Cantor’s daughter and a cousin of Mary Sugorovskiy, said in a statement read by Deputy Police Commissioner Kimberly Beaty. The statement said the family is asking for privacy while they mourn and heal. “The family is also asking for your prayers in the coming days and in the future as they prepare and deal with this forever life-changing event.”

Cantor said Sugorovskiy hasn’t spoken in specifics about what she saw late Saturday morning. “They were walking from the soccer game, going back to her car, pushing the stroller,” Cantor said, shrugging. “Poor Maksym was in the wrong spot at the wrong time.”

But he said his niece “had a very visceral, emotional reaction when she saw the driver of the car,” who was seen kneeling and sobbing after the accident. He was questioned by police but was released Sunday, as the investigation continues.

“Everyone who’s been affected by this tragedy has their own unique personal feelings about everything,” said Cantor, himself a local personal injury attorney. “We’re united by the fact that the family is grieving in ways that are unimaginable. We respect the police, and the district attorney, and they’re going to be doing their job.”

Cantor also noted that his own mother, Mary Cantor, died 42 years ago on May 30, 1973. Mary Cantor Sugorovskiy was named for her grandmother, and now she’s lost her son on the same date. “I was planning to go to the cemetery at some point yesterday, which I do every year at this point in time,” said Cantor, who was 20 when his mother died. “It’s surreal.”

And he had a message for the community. “The family would like to tell everyone that our children are our treasures, that every moment we spend with them is a treasure, that we not only love them, but we want to protect them.”

Meanwhile, on Sunday, amid a driving rain for much of the day, a makeshift memorial lay at the site of the accident, with a bouquet of flowers and a pair of brightly colored balloons on the grass, even as traffic flowed by.

Cantor said the family still hopes to recover Maksym’s favorite toy, Froggie, from police.

News Staff Reporter Joseph Popiolkowski contributed to this report. email: jepstein@buffnews.com