WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — In an exclusive interview with News 8, Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary spoke about the moment he found out his 18-year-old daughter was involved in a van crash in Florida with her Holy Cross rowing team.
Maggie O’Leary, a freshman at the College of the Holy Cross in Worchester, Massachusetts, was involved in a serious crash in Vero Beach, Florida, on Jan. 15 along with her rowing team. They were in Florida to train when someone crashed into their van at an intersection.
The crash injured seven occupants of the van and killed one, World Record-holding rower Grace Rett, of Massachusetts.
Rett was Maggie’s friend and roommate during the Florida trip.
Mayor O’Leary told News 8 on Wednesday, when he got the call about the accident, it jolted him, saying, “That kind of phone call — that kind of fear and terror in the person’s voice. She’s unconscious and they’re putting her on a helicopter.”
As soon as the mayor got the call, state police helped to get him and Maggie’s mother to Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks to catch a flight to be with their daughter.
When they arrived at the hospital, Maggie was in intensive care. She was “in a room with IV’s sticking out of her and oxygen masks — bruised and battered,” he said. “It was shocking.”
Maggie suffered multiple bone fractures and a concussion.
Mayor O’Leary told News 8 the accident report was made public Wednesday. Parents of the students in the van were made aware of its conclusions Tuesday.
Mayor O’Leary shared with News 8 details of that report. Ultimately, the driver of the van — the coach of the women’s crew team for 34 years — was at fault:
The operator and the coach…one of the most successful Division One coaches in women’s crew in the country…somehow was distracted.
This is the first time the crew team went to Vero Beach, normally they go over to the West Coast [of Florida], Sarasota area…but he made a mistake.
He crossed into the travel portion of the oncoming traffic and unfortunately the speed of the impact was so significant that these injuries resulted.
We feel, as parents and as a team, as a school community, we feel terrible for the coach.– Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary
Not long after the accident in Florida, the Waterbury community came together for a special mass for Maggie and the entire team.
More than 400 people attended at The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. The church streamed the service online so Maggie and the mayor and their family could watch it from her hospital room in Florida.
“I have to tell you, it was one of the most touching things I’ve seen in my 40 years of service here in Waterbury,” Mayor O’Leary said of the service.
The mayor says Maggie is on the mend. She’s still dealing with issues related to her concussion, but she’s well enough to be back at school. She’s taking it slow and her workload has been scaled back.
The mayor says the tragedy has brought the parents and families closer together. They’re all leaning on each other to get through this.
The mayor is also very appreciative of the hundreds of cards and letters Maggie has received from people throughout Waterbury and Connecticut.
“This community really comes together when things like this happen,” he said. “There is a lot of heart.”
WEB EXTRA: Watch the full, exclusive interview with Mayor O’Leary