It was a solemn evening in front of the Church of St. Mary in Manhasset the evening of July 27, as the community spilled out from the sanctuary to in front of the church doors, quiet in solidarity and grief.
The hundreds of mourners were there for Manhasset High School alums Ryan Kiess, 25, and brothers 20-year-old Michael and 25-year-old James Farrell, who died in a head-on collision in Quogue on July 24. On their way to go out dancing, the three were riding in an Uber with Kiess’ girlfriend, 22-year-old Brianna Maglio of Garden City, who is currently in critical condition. The Uber driver, 32-year-old Farhan Zahid of Bay Shore, a father of three, was also killed, along with 22-year-old Justin Mendez, who had veered into oncoming traffic, causing the fatal accident.
“We gather as a people to confront this tragedy, this horrendous event,” Rev. Robert Romeo said during the Tuesday prayer service. “We come broken, we come with need to find hope and consolation.”
The Farrells and Kiess were beloved in the community, as they were local lacrosse stars during their years of high school.
“This is an unthinkable tragedy both personally and professionally for me,” said Manhasset Secondary School Principal Dean Schlanger. “I had the pleasure of knowing Michael, James and Ryan, as well as their families, while students from seventh through 12th grades and beyond. These boys come from beloved families who are extremely connected and valued members of our community. All three of them were fun, bright and well-rounded gentlemen both on and off the playing field and will leave a profound and positive impact on our school community.”
The Manhasset School District on Sunday sent out a letter to the district community to express their condolences. The district also offered counseling services on July 25 for those affected by the tragedy. The flag in front of the high school was lowered to half-mast.
The flag was still in the breeze-less air on the warm July night, overlooking a quiet field populated by singing grass hoppers.
Just a short walk away, the church bell of St. Mary’s rang, as the overflow from the sanctuary watched the prayer service live on their cell phones.
“There is no logic in this senseless accident,” Romeo said. “It seemed that things were done correctly; taking an Uber, being safe. And yet, here we are, devastated and broken, by this senseless action and accident, which has touched so many people. “
Romeo left the crowd there with a message to continue sharing the stories of Kiess and the Farrells. He called the young men’s stories and memories sacred and beautiful. “The memory of these three young men will live on, so share them with their families, their parents, their siblings and grandparents.”
“I lost my best friend when we were 31-years-old,” Romeo said. “We were best friends since sixth grade. He was like a brother, he was a brother. Matter of fact, this Saturday his nephew who is my nephew is getting married. I was best man at this wedding and I stayed very close to his widow. But to his family, the relationship that we had even deeper. I became a surrogate son and called his parents mom and dad. But I’ll tell you, one of the reasons that my presence was healing to them is because I never stopped talking about it.”
With the singing of “On Eagle’s Wings” by M. Joncas, mourners exited the church. The friends of Kiess and the Farrells cried and hugged. Community members shared their sympathies for the parents of the young men and Manhasset alums shared the stories of the last time they saw Kiess and the Farrell brothers.
“I too went to high school with all their parents — all of whom are such honorable people and pillars of the community,” Clair Felix, a member of the Manhasset community, said. “May the power and strength of the Manhasset community help hold these poor families up during this terrible time.”
Around the downtown area of Manhasset, many spoke of the tragedy and their disbelief on how something could happen to good people like Kiess and the Farrell brothers, who were described as best friends. Evidence of a community left shaken could easily be seen with blue and orange ribbons, the Manhasset School District colors, tied around telephone poles and street signs put there by the Manhasset SCA.
“The officers and members of Company 2 are deeply saddened by the untimely passing of ex-member Ryan Kiess,” a Facebook post from the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department Company 2 read. “Ryan joined Company 2 in August of 2013 and served his community for roughly three years. We remember Ryan for his contagious smile, great sense of humor and willingness to always help others.”
The department then offered their condolences to the families of Kiess and the Farrells.
Kiess was a senior audit associate at KPMG US, an audit, tax and advisory firm. He graduated from the University of Scranton with a masters degree in accounting.
“Both Ryan and Brianna graduated from Scranton and both also played for Scranton’s lacrosse team,” Rev. Joseph Marina, the university president, said in a statement. “They have many friends at Scranton who have been touched by their lives.”
Michael Farrel was a full-time business student at Villanova University, according to his LinkedIn page, and James Farrell was the captain of the University of Pennsylvania’s lacrosse team during the 2018 season.
“Our hearts are broken following the news out on Long Island this weekend,” a statement published on the Penn Men’s Lacrosse Twitter page read. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Farrell family.”
In a press conference held by the Quogue Village Police Department on Tuesday, police announced that a “quantity of marijuana” was found in the Nissan Maxima driven by Mendez. Speed is also believed to be a factor in the accident, as it’s estimated that he may have been driving 55 mph in a 30 mph zone. Police say that the officer who witnessed Mendez made a U-turn to try to follow him, but the crash happened seconds later.