Crossing a rain-bright street after a joyous midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, Frank Bors looked up sharply at the sound of a sudden roar and saw a black car, lit only by parking lights, bearing down on 50 churchgoers in the crosswalk behind him.
Bors, hobbling in the drizzle on his artificial left leg, the result of a hit-and-run accident four years earlier, had walked ahead of his wife, Florinda, and her sister, Amelia Ferreira.
"Go ahead," his wife told him. "We'll stick our head under the umbrella. We'll catch up."
Screams Precede Tragedy
Now the screams of the scattering parishioners heralded the onrushing tragedy. There was a thud and a crunch. An umbrella flew through the air.
The 1976 Chevrolet Impala had catapulted the 64-year-old Ferreira 188 feet up the street. Her body was so torn that she required a colostomy and skin grafts and lay semi-comatose for more than a month.
Her 58-year-old sister disappeared on the hood of the fleeing car. Her body was found three-tenths of a mile from St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church. She died of multiple injuries.
"When I saw the umbrella go . . . there was no question in my mind but what it was the girls got hit," recalled Bors, 63. "I figured other people too. There were people chasing the car and yelling. The car started to slow down and people were running and it looked like they were gaining on him a little, but then he took off again."
A year after the accident, Bors and Ferreira remain shattered; the man who hit the women, so drunk at the time he says he doesn't remember the accident, is in prison.
Refused Breath Test
William L. Strack Jr., a 24-year-old painter, had spent Christmas Eve drinking beer at two bars and at a friend's party--depressed, he said, over breaking up with his girlfriend. The police who caught up with him charged him with drunk driving and leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death and injury. He refused a breath test, but officers reported that his speech was slurred, and he had trouble standing upright outside his car.
Strack was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading no contest. But under the plea bargain, he had to serve only three years. Strack will be eligible for parole in June, 1988.
"I feel responsible for a real tragedy," said Strack, who has joined Alcoholics Anonymous at the prison. "Prior to this happening, I was doing fantastic. I had a beautiful apartment. I was making $10 an hour. After that, it seems like my life had just come to a complete end."
Thought of Suicide
Because of his guilt, he said, he has thought of committing suicide.
"So did I," said Ferreira. Turning to her husband, Frank, she added: "You don't know that, but I told my counselor."
"I don't think I could ever forgive him for taking my sister," she said later. "In a way, I feel bad for him because he is a kid."
Bors felt more strongly: "I would have taken an ax and broken this kid's neck the next day if it were up to me."
Ferreira said the tragedy ruined her life. Unable to work, she sold the beauty salon she ran for 24 years. She is afraid of the night. She couldn't shower until two months ago because she feared the water hitting her brittle body.
She moves slowly, her muscles weak from lack of use. She speaks almost in a whisper because tubes were down her throat for so long. She forgot the names of family members; her husband retaught her with photographs.
"It's altogether different," Ferreira said of her life now. "I used to call my sister every day. I didn't make a move without her and she didn't make a move without me. We were together all the time.
"I was a very independent person. I was always on the go. Now I can't do anything on my own. My car sits out there and I look at it. I walk around the block by myself. That's the most I can do."
She sees a counselor at a mental health clinic every week.
"I know my sister's dead, but deep down I keep waiting for her to come through that door," she said. "(The counselor) can understand that because I didn't see her die. I didn't see her buried."
Ferreira doesn't remember much about that Christmas Eve, not even attending church. But images of that night won't leave Bors alone.
Repeatedly, he sees a young police officer grasping a broken umbrella and a blue purse recovered at the scene. Bors recognizes the purse because of its nuisance factor: He carried it for his wife to Christmas Eve dinner and to relatives' homes to drop off gifts.
The Borses had been married just 2 1/2 years. Bors' first wife died in 1979. It was the first marriage for Florinda Bors, a retired physical education teacher. After retirement, she split her time between Newport and Sebago Lake, Me., managing restaurants in both towns.
Last year, Bors sold their houses in nearby Middletown and in Sebago Lake and moved into a small two-bedroom ranch home in Newport.
"You can chuckle that somebody my age could marry . . . can get all wrapped up at that stage of the game," he said. "But it was like a couple of 16-year-old kids. The fact that you lose somebody at that point in time doesn't make it any easier."
Ferreira and Bors dreaded the approach of the holidays this year.
"I loved Christmas," Ferreira said. "It was my most favorite time of the year. I used to put up three trees."
'Can't Get With It'
"I went out and tried Christmas shopping. I just can't get with it," said Bors. "I passed the word out, 'I'm not doing any shopping or sending any cards. I'm leaving and don't worry about where I am. I'll let you know after New Year's.' "
It wasn't until September that Ferreira could open the gifts her sister had left behind last year. Florinda Bors had given her sister a golf club to complete a set. Ferreira had taken up golf and tennis the previous summer so she could play with her sister. They often vacationed together.
"This was going to be our year," Ferreira said. "We were going to get out and play tennis and go golfing."
When Frank Bors finally emptied his Christmas stocking six months after the accident, he found a new wallet-size photo of his wife signed, "To Frank. Love. Flo, '86."
'When I saw the umbrella go . . . there was no question in my mind but what it was the girls got hit.'