When she graduated from Middleburgh High School in 1994 as president of her class, Elizabeth “Beth” Harkes was a vibrant athlete in several sports with a love of photography and music, according to friends and family.
Harkes, 32, died Saturday when a friend’s vehicle went off a hill along a remote Forest Service road about 1:30 a.m. near Durango, Colo., after what her mother and uncle suspect was likely a night of partying.
Even while dealing with her grief, Beth’s mother, Carole Hackett of Albany, sought Wednesday to let her daughter’s death serve as a warning to others.
“She was a passenger, she didn’t have a seat belt on,” Hackett said.
She hopes other people “will do more thinking before the next time they get in a car with somebody drunk.”
According to the Colorado State Patrol, the driver of the 1990 Isuzu Amigo, Robert Wagner, 34, was charged with vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, driving while intoxicated, careless driving causing bodily injury and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Wagner and two other passengers survived. Wagner and another passenger wearing seat belts suffered relatively minor injuries, while Harkes and another injured passenger not belted in were ejected as the Amigo rolled several times down an embankment, troopers reported.
Wagner was a co-worker at the Wit’s End Guest Ranch, where Harkes found work after moving to Colorado a few months ago, according to her mother.
“We have to grieve,” said Beth’s uncle, Jim Hackett, a New Jersey resident. “But they shouldn’t have been on the road, for sure.”
Hackett said his sister hopes “to help save someone else’s daughter” by talking about the accident.
Middleburgh Elementary School Principal Amy Lennon, a former physical education teacher, remembers coaching Harkes when she was on the high school varsity basketball and softball teams. Harkes also played soccer.
“She was a very fun-loving and very intelligent student, who was very creative,” Lennon said.
Several Middleburgh staff members went to school with Harkes, and Lennon said she’s been calling to inform them of the fatal accident.
While family members called her Beth, classmates knew her as Liz, according to Harkes’ mother.
She was born in New Jersey, but her family moved to the Middleburgh area when Beth was a toddler, Jim Hackett said.
After high school, she moved to Albany, working as a secretary in the Albany County Health Department and also at Albany Medical Center, her mother said.
Last April she decided to pursue her love of photography and move to Colorado, after hearing how wonderful it was from two friends from Middleburgh High who moved to the Rocky Mountain State, Carole Hackett said.
“She felt she needed a change … it was definitely her dream come true,” she said.
At the time of her death, Harkes was compiling a portfolio of photographs that she hoped would lead to a career, her mother said.
Besides her mother and uncle, Harkes is survived by her father, Alex Harkes, of Kearny, N.J.; sisters, Erin Harkes of Albany, and Jennifer McQuilkin of Buffalo; and a brother, Matthew McQuilkin, of Albany.
A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 9 a.m. Saturday in St. Mary’s Church on Capitol Hill, Albany. Arrangements are by Daniel Keenan Funeral Home, 490 Delaware Ave., Albany. Calling hours will be 4 to 8 p.m. Friday.
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Categories: Schenectady County