As Aluska, 55, and her daughter were walking together on a sidewalk, at about 9:10 a.m., a car lurched toward them, the Suffolk County Police Department said in a news release. The driver, Ann Riolo, 80, thought her car was in drive after she moved out of a parking spot, but when she hit the gas, the vehicle was still in reverse, police told reporters. She lost control and the car jumped the sidewalk, heading directly toward Aluska and her daughter.
Seeing the car, Aluska shoved her daughter out of its path. The vehicle merely clipped the teenager but struck Aluska before crashing into the Lindenhurst Fire Department. Aluska was pinned under the car until bystanders rushed to push it off her, police told Newsday.
“At the last second you could see the mother kind of throw the daughter out of the way and sacrifice herself to try and save her own daughter,” bakery owner Joe Biggs told CBS 2.
Aluska later died at a nearby hospital, succumbing to her serious injuries, police said. Authorities say the crash “appears to be non-criminal, just a terrible accident,” the New York Daily News reported.
“I have no doubt that she saved her daughter’s life,” Detective Sgt. James Murphy told Newsday.
The pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Msgr. Joseph DeGrocco, said “we all heard the bang, we all heard the crash.”
As first responders arrived, Jenna texted her father, Kenneth Aluska, the New York Daily News reported.
“I rushed over to the firehouse where she was laying,” he told CBS News later. “She was crying for her mom.”
Jenna, who suffered non-life-threatening back injuries, would not find out about her mother’s death until the next day. Her father told her after breakfast.
“I couldn’t tell her before she went into surgery,” Kenneth Aluska said, fighting back tears as he spoke to reporters outside Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip on Monday. “I thought it would be too traumatic, too devastating.”
The fatal crash left the family, their parish and their local community mourning a mother on a day that was meant for celebrating. Flowers and candles were left at the site of the accident. Flags were lowered Monday at Babylon Town Hall, where Diane Aluska served for 16 years in the town clerk’s office. A candlelight vigil is planned for this coming Friday.
“Obviously it’s Mother’s Day, a terrible day, a terrible tragedy,” DeGrocco said, “a terrible day to have this happen.”
Town of Babylon Supervisor Rich Schaffer said in a statement that Aluska “served residents of the town with dedication, compassion and a big smile.”
“We are keeping her daughter, Jenna and her family in our thoughts and prayers,” Schaffer said. “We are also keeping the Riolo family in our prayers as we try to make sense of and deal with this terrible accident.”
Kenneth Aluska said Jenna’s surgery went well and she is “doing okay.” Doctors installed pins in her back, along with a temporary brace that she will have to wear for six months.
Asked how he was doing, the father said, “I’m handling it.”
“Just trying to be their dad,” he said.
Diane Aluska’s brother, Robert Acquista, told ABC7 “she was everything to us.”
“I can’t put it into words,” Acquista said. “She did everything. Every holiday was at her house, everything. She’s going to be missed tremendously by everybody.”
Aluska — a breast cancer survivor — also had a son expected to leave for college in September, a neighbor told Newsday. Her Facebook displayed photos of the children posing with their parents. In one picture, Jenna stands in a pink sparkling dress with her mother, in front of a Christmas tree.
Jenna wants to become a journalist, her father said, and she is in the middle of writing a book. She asked him to bring her notebook to the hospital.
He told reporters it was “a beautiful thing” what his wife did, moving her child out of harm’s way, adding that it was what any loving parent would do.
“She gave up her own life for her child,” he told reporters. “More people in the world should be like her.”
“She lived her life for her daughter,” he added in an interview with the New York Daily News. “There isn’t anything she wouldn’t do for her.”
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