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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Fest aims to take sting out of Hanukkah party crash

Fest aims to take sting out of Hanukkah party crash

BY JENNIFER BARRIOS AND MICHAEL FRAZIER

December 30, 2008

At first, Dan Smith wasn't sure he wanted to bring his toddler, Judah, to another Hanukkah party.

Smith, 31, of Far Rockaway, said he, his wife, and their two children had been at Chabad's Chanukah Wonderland party in Woodmere on Thursday when a BMW sport utility vehicle crashed into the building. The SUV drove over the spot where, seconds before, Smith's son had stood.

But Smith and his family decided to venture out to another Hanukkah party yesterday, held just blocks away at the Chabad Center of the Five Towns in Cedarhurst.

"I definitely think it's a good idea," Smith said, as Judah, 2, played happily nearby. "Pick up and carry on - it's a good idea to host an ending party."

The mood was joyous amid the dreidel-making, face-painting and two tables filled with toys reserved for children who had witnessed the accident.

Children molded chanukiot - nine-branched Hanukkah menorahs - out of clay, while others danced to traditional Hanukkah music performed by live musicians.

This celebration was a distinctly different experience for Smith, who said he was among the men who had lifted the BMW after it came to a halt inside the Chanukah Wonderland building. Smith said he pulled two men out from under the car, one able to crawl, but the other limp and bloodied. Fourteen adults and children ended up in the hospital.

Smith remains shaken but said, "You have to be strong for the kids."

Yesterday created happy memories to counteract last week's, said Rabbi Zalman Wolowik, director of the Chabad center. "We decided to hold it so that children should have positive memories of Hanukkah," he said.

Police have determined that Thursday's crash was caused when a floor mat interfered with the gas and brake pedals in Theodore Saretsky's vehicle. Saretsky, 76, of Atlantic Beach, has not responded to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, officials at the Town of Hempstead said that the Chanukah Wonderland gathering violated the town's public assembly law, and that fines could be levied against the owners of the building. Tax records show the owners to be Philip and Norma Baker.

Ray Schwarz, Hempstead inspections supervisor, said the building is zoned for general retail, not public assembly, and a special permit is required for more than 13 seats associated with dining. More than 100 people were at the party at the time of the crash.

A notice of violation was posted on the building Friday. A second notice was posted yesterday, requiring the building's owner to comply with the law.

Schwarz said the building did not have the required amount of parking to safely accommodate the event. The violation could result in a $350 fine against the Bakers, who could not be located last night.

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