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SCHOOL MOURNS TEENS

The halls of Frontier Central Senior High School were nearly silent Friday -- the only sounds those of sobs and quiet condolences as students tried to come to terms with the news of three classmates killed in a car accident the night before on Southwestern Boulevard.

"It's just a complete shock," said Daryl-lyn Horton, a sophomore.

"A lot of kids were crying," said Jamie Caputo, a junior. "It was really tough."

The teens remembered fondly their peers: John "Jack" Gallivan, 16, of Lake View; Darryl Thompson, 18, of Hamburg; and Daniel Otremba, 15, of Lake View. The three youths died Thursday evening when Gallivan, the driver, lost control of the car, and it veered into oncoming traffic, according to authorities, and was hit by a westbound car driven by Jennifer Seymore, 22, of Hamburg.

After that collision, Seymore's car was struck by a vehicle driven by Jason Garland, 21, of Hamburg. Seymore, Garland, and a passenger in his car, Erica Garland, were taken to area hospitals with non-life threatening injuries, police said. A status report on the three injured people was unavailable from Hamburg police late Friday.

Adults and teens remembered all of the young men as good kids who made friends easily and liked to make people laugh.

Otremba, a sophomore, was "just a kid who got along with everyone," offering classmates a steady stream of jokes during their Web page design class, Horton remembered.

"He took the high road when other kids weren't taking it," recalled an adult who knew him.

For a time, she said, a classmate was being bullied by other students. Otremba, though, would make it a point to stop in the mall to talk to him.

"He was very polite, very respectful to people," the adult remembered.

Two friends, Adrianna Anzalone and Steve DelPrince, recalled his upbeat attitude. "He will always be remembered for his giving heart and strong feelings of happiness," they wrote about Otremba.

Gallivan, Horton said, "was the sweetest," a boy who introduced himself to her last year and became the closest of friends. He had a great sense of humor, one of his teachers said.

"He was a fun kid to be around," Caputo said.

Another friend, Noelle Raimondo, remembered Gallivan as "the class clown, but in a nice way."

"Teachers loved him, too, because he always made you laugh," she said. "He was like a big teddy bear."

Both Otremba and Gallivan played lacrosse for the Hamburg Knights, Otremba at midfield and Gallivan as a defenseman.

Thompson, the oldest of the three victims, "always tried to make people laugh," said Kristin Fudella, a senior. A teacher recalled he was fun-loving, and "a good kid, a really good kid."

"He had the greatest personality. Never once did I see him upset," said Caputo.

Although he had encountered some academic challenges last year, Thompson had been putting a great effort into his schoolwork and doing well, a friend said. He also worked at a gas station convenience store on South Park Avenue near the high school. A person who answered the telephone at the store Friday evening when asked about Thompson said, "I'm not at liberty to give out any information."

As students pulled together in grief, embracing their memories and grappling with the devastation of their loss, the mood in Frontier High School Friday was somber.

"It was very quiet in the halls today," one teacher said. "There was none of that backslapping, 'hey, how you doin' kind of stuff."

District officials mobilized Frontier's critical response team early Friday morning, Superintendent Gary R. Cooper said. Psychologists, guidance counselors and social workers visited classes the three youths attended and made themselves available to students and staff throughout the day.

"There were a share of students that had asked us to call their parents and go home, and we honored that. A few parents came in and got their kids," he said. "One of the very strong points about this community is that it's a very close-knit community. Many of our kids are (lifelong) Hamburg kids. Their parents went to school here, and they went to school here since elementary school. This is especially hard for those teenagers."

For teachers and staff, too, the tragedy hit hard. Many hurried home after the final bell Friday to spend time with their own children after a draining and emotional school day spent coping with the loss.

"Somehow, we got through the day," one teacher said.

Hamburg police, meanwhile, are continuing their investigation.

Gallivan, who turned 16 in February, was driving on a valid learner's permit, Lt. William Lickfield and Officer Holly McKnight confirmed.

At the time, there was a licensed operator aged 18 with him, so he was legally operating the vehicle, Lickfield explained.

Under New York's Vehicle and Traffic Law, a person with a learner's permit may drive a vehicle between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m., as long as a licensed operator 18 or older is in the car and from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. when accompanied by a licensed parent, guardian, driver education teacher or driving school instructor.

Although it had been dark for about an hour and a half, the crash occurred at 7:40 p.m., long before the 9 p.m. deadline.

The triple-fatal accident occurred while New York State is considering legislation that would require teens to earn their driving privileges at graduated levels. One local official, who asked not to be identified, suggested that the state law on learner's permits also should be reviewed.

Town of Hamburg accident investigators, however, emphasized there is no evidence that inexperience played any role in Thursday night's accident.

Although the details differ from other recent accidents, the crush of tragedy in the Frontier district is all too familiar.

So, too, is the setting: Southwestern Boulevard, also known as Route 20.

In late August, 17-year-old Lindsay Gardner died after a collision between a sport utility vehicle and a pickup truck. And last week, a 16-year-old boy suffered severe injuries after a driver, allegedly drunk at the time, struck the boy's bicycle at Southwestern Boulevard and Howard Road.

Since 1997, people have been injured in more than 350 accidents on Southwestern Boulevard in the Town of Hamburg -- accounting for more than one-sixth of the injury accidents in the town. In that same period, 10 people have been killed on Southwestern.

Some teens say that, while they are not generally scared to drive, they do avoid Southwestern Boulevard.

Local and state officials have long recognized the problem and have sought to remedy it. A few years ago, the state lowered the speed limit from 55 to 50 mph. And long-term plans call for a center-turn lane to be added in stages by the end of 2007, from Route 187 to Amsdell Road, according to James Barnack, regional traffic engineer for the Department of Transportation.

Still, some local officials say more must be done. A month ago, Councilwoman Kathleen Courtney Hochul appealed to the DOT to take some temporary steps, possibly lowering the speed limit further or restriping the road.

"It has become a dangerous section in our town," she said. "Route 20 is popping up more frequently with accidents, a lot of them involving young people."

Staff Reporter Gene Warner also contributed to this report.

e-mail: mpasciak@buffnews.com

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