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Hunt continues for driver of SUV in fatal hit-and-run

Hamburg police are continuing their search for a hit-and-run driver who killed a Hilbert College student who was walking home with friends after working at a haunted house at the Erie County fairgrounds.

The driver left the scene on South Park Avenue early Saturday morning after the sport utility vehicle struck Meghan Sorbera, 19, hurling her through the air and causing fatal head injuries.

Sorbera and two other students were walking to their house near the Hilbert campus after spending the night working as performers at the "Scare at the Fair" haunted house.

Police are working to solve the crime with eyewitness accounts and several pieces of the SUV that broke off during the 1:35 a.m. incident.

"We've got to catch who did this," said Police Capt. Daniel Shea, "and we will."

College officials said Sorbera was a sophomore from Burlington Flats, outside Cooperstown, who was studying to become a forensic investigator. She was a former member of the cross country team.

"The students who knew her are devastated," said James P. Sturm, vice president for student life at Hilbert. "Meghan and her friends were very close. Halloween was her favorite time of the year. She loved making costumes and loved working as one of the monsters at the haunted house."

"We're just shocked and we're grieving," added the college president, Cynthia Zane. "We're praying for her and her family and for her friends."

Sorbera was struck on a stretch of South Park that has no sidewalks, which, according to college officials, creates a dangerous situation for students who often walk along the busy road to stores, restaurants and nearby workplaces.

Investigators said Sorbera had just started walking along South Park with two friends when the SUV hit her. The three were returning to campus, about two miles north of the fairgrounds.

The students were walking with traffic on South Park, just south of the Pegasus Restaurant, when the SUV struck Sorbera. The speed limit there is 45 mph, and the area is adequately though not brightly lit, police said. Sorbera was wearing dark clothing.

Witnesses said the young woman flew at least 30 feet, landing in the front yard of Ramona Arida's home.

"I heard a bang -- a thump," Arida said. "Something got hit."

The SUV slowed down for a moment, but then kept going, witnesses told police.

Arida, who had been in bed, assumed someone had driven into her mailbox again. She said she has seen more than her share of accidents in front of her house.

But when she came downstairs to see what was going on, she quickly realized that this was no ordinary accident.

"I saw two people on the ground," she said. She could see that they were hovering over a third person.

"Is everything OK?" Arida yelled to them.

A young man answered: "No! My girlfriend just got hit by a car!"

Arida asked if she could call 911 for them. The student said they were already on the line with an emergency dispatcher, but asked for her street address.

Arida grabbed a comforter and ran outside. She covered the young woman on the ground.

"She was unconscious and shaking," Arida said.

An ambulance and the police came quickly.

Sorbera was still breathing and had a pulse, but police said it was obvious that she had suffered a severe head injury. She was rushed to Erie County Medical Center.

As more investigators arrived at the scene, more students began gathering there, Arida said.

The young people came in and out of her house, distraught over their friend.

"Oh, God," she cried out. "I just feel so bad for this girl. . . . Those poor parents. My heart just breaks for them. I'm just devastated."

Sorbera's parents, Peter and Susan Sorbera, were notified about the accident at about 2 a.m., and they immediately drove to Buffalo. Their daughter was pronounced dead at 7:18 a.m.

The parents met Saturday afternoon with their daughter's roommates at a Hilbert-owned house where they lived.

Jim Hughes and Chris Harter, two of the operators of the haunted house at the fairgrounds, said those who worked with Sorbera were extremely upset to hear of her death. They said she genuinely enjoyed her job, which often required her to dress up as a scary clown or hillbilly.

"She was a nice kid. Everybody liked her," Harter said. "They need to catch the person who did this."



Police seek help

Hamburg police said it is likely the car in question is either a 2002 or 2003 Ford Explorer or Mercury Mountaineer.

Police believe it is a high-end model, either Eddie Bauer or XLT, with amenities like leather seats.

Authorities also believe that the windshield may be damaged.

They found some important clues to help catch the driver:

*A black piece of plastic that holds the passenger side fog light on the ground.

*A headlight cover and a yellow marker light, also from the right side.

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