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Hundreds of mourners gather in Delaware Park to remember young victim

Maksym Sugorovskiy wondered aloud – as young boys often do – if frogs shed their skin. So his mother, Mary, dutifully searched for an answer on YouTube.

A video featuring Muppet creation Kermit the Frog popped up among the results. “Who is that?” the 3-year-old intoned.

A friendship was born, and Kermit quickly became one of Maksym’s favorite characters, even rivaling Woody from the movie “Toy Story.”

For his fourth birthday on Aug. 23, the boy asked for a Kermit figure the same size as his Woody doll. “Presumably so he could have one under each arm,” said Rachel Cantor, a cousin to the boy’s mother.

But Maksym’s short life ended suddenly Saturday, when a car left the Scajaquada Expressway, crossed the median into Delaware Park and struck and killed him and critically injured his 5-year-old sister, Stephanie, as they were walking on the Ring Road with their mother.

The Kermit story and other happy remembrances were shared Tuesday evening with hundreds of mourners in Delaware Park at the start of a public vigil and memorial walk for Maksym and his family.

The siblings were close, often sharing ice cream at a favorite South Buffalo ice cream parlor, Cantor said. “The boy practically idolized his big sister,” she said. Maksym loved to open doors for people. “He would often run ahead, just to be able to get the door,” she said.

The vigil was organized by Kerri Machemer, a parent who also created the Parents for a Safe Delaware Park page on Facebook.

“We as a community will be here for their support, to lift them up and ensure that the memory of Max is never forgotten and that his light will never be extinguished,” she said, tearfully.

In addition to showing support for the family, the vigil was intended to bring awareness to traffic safety concerns in the Delaware Park community. The Parkside Community Association was there, circulating petitions demanding that the state Department of Transportation redesign the Scajaquada.

“We need immediate change,” said Amber Small, the association’s executive director. “We need immediate improvements.”

In a nod to Maksym’s newfound discovery of Kermit, participants Tuesday were asked to wear green. Those clad in Maksym’s favorite color included Danielle Schmidt, who was walking with her husband, Nick, and their children, Drury and Sawyer.

“This is a close community and it could have been any one of us,” she said. “I think that really resonates with people.”

She, like many others, agreed with calls to downsize the expressway. “It should be a parkway,” she said. “It’s in the middle of an Olmsted park.”

The speed limit was permanently lowered from 50 mph to 30 on Sunday. “It’s tragic that it took something like this for it to happen,” Schmidt said.

In the gift shop at Women & Children’s Hospital, where Stephanie is recuperating, Cantor said Mary Sugorovskiy found the exact Kermit figure that Maksym yearned for.

“From that point on Kermit joined Woody at the foot of Stephanie’s hospital bed,” Cantor said.

The family also has been reviewing photos of the children taken only weeks before tragedy struck, during a vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, she said.

“They swam in the ocean for the very first time and happily frolicked around with their beloved dog, Eddie,” Cantor said. “You can see in both Stephanie and Maksym’s eyes that they lived each moment fully, without hesitation, like there’d be no tomorrow.”

With that, those gathered lit candles and walked slowly and solemnly to the zoo, then out to Parkside Avenue with a Buffalo police escort, down to the Scajaquada, and down the side of the road to the accident site.

There, people added chalk messages and outlines of handprints to the Jersey barriers placed Monday as a buffer between traffic and parkgoers. And the song “Rainbow Connection” was played, a song from “The Muppet Movie” made famous by a certain green frog adored by children everywhere.