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Car Crashes Party, 14 Hurt

WOODMERE, N.Y. -- A speeding car crashed through plate-glass windows into a Woodmere storefront where dozens of children attended a Hanukkah festival last night, then plowed through the crowded party room running over children and their families, Nassau police said.

Fourteen people were injured at the Chanukah Wonderland party, half of them children including an 18-month-old, sending them to three hospitals for treatment. The oldest injured person was about 40.

The room was suddenly in an uproar as the BMW burst in and the air was filled with shards of broken glass and debris from the windows and walls, Nassau Police Det. Lt. Kevin Smith said

"People are running in all different directions. There was a lot of chaos at the scene," Smith said.

About 100 people were at the festival, which Smith described as "basically a child's party."

The 2007 BMW X3, with a 76-year-old man at the wheel, came to rest at the far end of the party room with one victim, a man, pinned beneath it. Others at the party came to the aid of the pinned man and lifted or rolled the BMW to free him, police said.

Police would not release the name of the driver but the owner of the car is listed as Theodore Saretsky of Atlantic Beach. He has been a licensed psychiatrist since 1965 and has no recent disciplinary actions taken against him. He has no criminal record and no accidents or violations on his driver's license, records show.

He and his wife, Lorelle, also a psychologist, are listed as adjunct faculty at Adelphi University's Gordon F. Derner Institute for Advance Psychological Studies. Theodore Saretsky has been quoted numerous times in Newsday, commenting on sports psychology.

Saretsky and Adelphi officials could not be reached for comment.

'A horrible tragedy'

"The operator lost control of this car. He may have made a claim that something happened with the accelerator," Smith said.

About 30 men together lifted the BMW sport utility vehicle, weighing more than 4,000 pounds, off the man who was trapped under a front tire when it came to rest, said Leo Shalamoff, owner of Pizza Pious, a kosher Italian restaurant across the street from Chanukah Wonderland. Shalamoff said he and one of his employees ran to offer aid.

Injured children were on the floor amid pieces of broken glass, metal and wood from window frames and walls, Shalamoff said. He and his employee went to the back wall of the shop where the SUVhad trapped a man.

"We saw the man under the car. It was terrible. It was difficult. There was maybe 30 men picking up the car but suddenly we did it. We pulled him out and helped him to the ambulance," Shalamoff said. "There was blood all over."

One of the injured was taken from the scene by helicopter.

The victims were taken to Nassau University Medical Center, Mercy Hospital and Winthrop Hospital. Several are in serious condition, injured by flying debris, flying glass and blunt force trauma, Smith said.

John Broder, vice president of external affairs for Winthrop University Hospital, said three children younger than 5 are being treated in the hospital's pediatric unit. One of the children is in fair condition, while two are in serious condition, he said.

Rabbi Heshy Blumstein of Young Israel of Hewlett and his wife Mimi visited some of the injured at Winthrop.

"It was a horrible tragedy," Blumstein said.

Still, the fact that there were many survivors means "there are miracles all over," Mimi Blumstein said.

The driver, who was described as being in shock, was also hospitalized.

Faivish Pewzner, who said he was from the Chabad congregation, emerged last evening from the pediatric intensive care unit at NUMC with his wife. He said two children were in the unit with broken bones.

"Thank God, they're recovering nicely," said his wife, who did not want to give her name. "Nothing but a few broken bones."

The 3-year-old brother of one of the victims was in Winthrop Hospital with major injuries, Pewzner said. "He needs facial surgery," he said.

"Poor family - the mother and father are both in separate hospitals, dealing with trauma," she said.

Yan Kelewitz said his wife and children were in the room at the time of the crash, and that his wife saw the car enter the building.

A couple bringing pizzas to the affected families paused briefly in the NUMC emergency room before heading into the hospital. "It's horrible," the man said.

Investigating the crash

The incident was being viewed initially as an accident, pending an investigation by First Squad detectives and an accident investigation team, Smith said.

The 2:45 p.m. accident took place at the northeast corner of Franklin Place and Broadway. Witnesses said the car approached a red light at the intersection and then veered to the left, into a parked Honda Pilot, knocking the parked car onto the sidewalk, police said.

The BMW then went through the glass, across the party room and ended up at the back of the building against a wall, where it "comes to rest after running over several people," Smith said.

A Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi said parties at Chanukah Wonderland have been taking place for about 10 years. Children go there to learn about the Jewish holy days.

At around 8 p.m. more than 50 people were at the Chanukah Wonderland cleaning it, removing tables, games, craft supplies and paint. A line of men said evening prayers inside the room, with tire marks on the carpet nearby.

Rabbi Zalman Wolowik, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Five Towns, said counselors will be provided for anyone who needs support.

"Our first priority at this time is to make sure that everyone is taken care of by medical personnel and that all of the children are safe," he said.

Jennifer Barrios and Bill Bleyer contributed to this report.


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