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Family, friends mourn teen killed in head-on crash in Elma

Tony Morganti had just picked up his girlfriend, Rachel LoFaso, 16, at her house in Elma.

It was Sunday – right in the middle of a three-day weekend – and they were on their way for a late breakfast.

"It was a sunny, beautiful day," said Rachel's father, Fred LoFaso.

State police don't yet know exactly what happened, but at about 11:15 a.m. Morganti's 1996 Audi crossed over the center lane of Bullis Road and was struck by a 2010 Toyota RAV4. Investigators are looking into the possibility that there were slippery conditions on the road and that Morganti, 17, may have overcorrected.

The two teens in the Audi and three people in the SUV were injured but Rachel's injuries were the most severe. She was taken to Mercy Hospital, where the Iroquois High School junior was pronounced dead.

"It happened within minutes of our house," Fred LoFaso said.

Rachel LoFaso, 16, an Iroquois High School junior, died in a two-car collision Jan. 14, 2018, in the town of Elma. (Courtesy of Frederic LoFaso)

LoFaso learned about the crash from a text from Rachel's mother. They were initially told to go to Erie County Medical Center but upon arriving there, they only found Tony. After a series of frantic phone calls, they were told Rachel had been taken to Mercy Hospital. A man at ECMC called Mercy for them.

"When we hung up the phone, I asked, 'Is she OK?' LoFaso said.

The man said he was told they weren't allowed to say.

"Then I just knew," LoFaso said. "I just knew."

On Tuesday, two days after the crash, Rachel's family and friends were grieving the loss of a vibrant, young and beautiful girl.

Friends shared photos of Rachel on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

"life takes away the most beautiful people. i love you so much rachel and you will be missed. you were an amazing, happy person. fly high beautiful," one friend tweeted.

Fred LoFaso said a woman posted to one of Rachel's social media accounts that her family had stopped when they came upon the accident scene, moments after it happened. "She said that her family found the accident and they pulled over and that her father held her and comforted her," the father said, breaking down in tears as he talked. "That meant so much. That somebody was there. That meant so much to me."

Numb with grief, LoFaso said he hasn't yet had a chance to try to find the man who was there with his daughter in her final moments.

Sunday's crash was especially heartbreaking to the students and staff at Iroquois High School. Rachel and Tony were both students there, as was a teenager who was inside the SUV involved in the collision, said Iroquois Schools Superintendent Donald Scofield.

On Tuesday, "a significant number of students and staff" wore purple to school, Rachel's favorite color, Scofield said. Counselors were made available for any students seeking help.

A friend of Rachel's set up a Gofundme.com page in her honor, asking for $10,000 to help cover medical costs. By midday Tuesday, the fundraiser had collected more than $15,000 from more than 250 people. The page features a photo of Rachel laughing while sitting on a fence.

Police identify teen killed in Elma crash

LoFaso recalled a special memory of his daughter.

This fall, she was a junior and she had tried out for the varsity girls soccer team. She didn't make it.

"She was very discouraged about that," LoFaso said.

But she was offered the chance to play with the junior varsity team, something that hadn't been allowed previously for older students.

Rachel didn't want to do it, but then coach Renee Reinhardt called.

"It just meant so much to me that the coach cared to do that," LoFaso said.

She ended up agreeing to play on the JV team. "Rachel decided to do it and every day, she would complain about playing with the younger kids. But she went to practice every day."

By the end of the season, she was called up to play for the varsity team.

It was a great learning experience for Rachel, her father said, and shows what kind of caring community the Iroquois schools provided. "It was just a special moment for her," her father said.

Rachel was warm and caring but shy with strangers, he said.

"At home, she was the loudest one," her father said with a sad laugh. She had two older sisters, Cecilia and Madeline, and a younger brother, Donald. She was the same way with her tight-knit group of friends in Elma.

Fred LoFaso's mother, who has dementia, lives in a carriage house at his home and Rachel was always tender with her. "She was so good with my mother," Fred LoFaso said.

Rachel loved animals – especially her dogs, Sammy and Ivy – and talked often of becoming a veterinarian.

Just a few days before she died, Rachel had talked about a tragedy that had struck the school the previous school year. In the spring, a sixth-grader was badly hurt in an ATV accident and eventually died of his injuries. "She would bring him up every once in a while," her father said. "Just a few days ago, she was saying how bad she felt for the family."

Rachel is survived by her parents, Fred and Cynthia; sisters, Cecelia and Madeline, brother, Donald; and grandparents, James and Maria Smith, and Geraldine LoFaso. Visiting hours are 3 to 8 p.m. Thursday in the Elma Chapel of Amigone Funeral Home,  7540 Clinton St., Elma. A Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. Friday in St. Vincent de Paul Church, 6441 Seneca St., Spring Brook.

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