Every Wednesday, the Empire State Capital Volkssporters group gathers for a leisurely walk down paths and streets throughout the Capital Region. Group members say they participate for the exercise and friendship, but this week they also came out to walk in memory of three of their own who were killed just over a year ago.
On Aug. 10, 2011, while waiting to begin a walk with the Volkssporters, Fran Pallozzi, 81, of Waterford, Carol Lansing, 66, of Green Island, and Rosemarie Hume, 79, of Waterford, were killed outside St. Matthew’s Church in Voorheesville when a woman lost control of her SUV and struck them as they stood on a sidewalk near the church.
The Empire State Capital Volkssporters group is part of the American Volkssport Association, which has 300 clubs throughout the U.S. The clubs sponsor more than 3,000 walking events, bicycle rides, swims and snowshoeing outings annually.
On Wednesday, more than 100 of the local group’s members gathered in the parking lot of Hudson Valley Community College’s TEC-SMART facility in Malta to pay tribute to the three lives lost.
“We’re here to give support to the families and to those members who were really good friends of theirs and those who were there at the accident, that saw what happened, to give them some peace,” said Lea Darling, president of the local Volkssporters group.
She has fond memories of the three women who died — “their smiles, their friendliness, their laughter. [They were] just happy to be out doing something they loved with people that they really enjoyed.”
Affixed to the walkers’ shirts were loops of orange, green and blue-striped ribbon secured with a silver cross or a dove, a remembrance the group has been wearing during every walk since the women died.
Dressed in sports apparel and sneakers, the walkers stood reverently in the parking lot for a brief memorial service that included a moment of silence, a prayer and a reading of the 23rd Psalm. Accompanied by a guitar and flute, they sang three verses of Amazing Grace and then, humming the hymn, began their choice of a 5k or 10k walk.
Bob McElroy of Schenectady, a member of the group since 1990, had an air of melancholy about him as he began the walk.
“I think the overriding feeling that most of us have is that we’ve lost three good friends and that it didn’t seem fair,” he said. “It’s brought a new reality to everybody here, as well as the general public. How can this happen? We’ll never forget them.”
Jim Shanley, 83, of Delmar, was there the day of the accident. “I was across the street and I heard it and one of my friends went over to look and he came back shaking his head. I stayed where I was,” he recounted during the walk.
His wife, Marge Shanley, 78, was friends with Pallozzi.
“She had a limp, a severe one,” she recalled, “She was always there and she went the whole distance and she was older than I am and I always admired that. And she always had good words, and of course all of our walkers are like that. They’re the nicest group of people. You’ll never be a stranger when you walk with this group.”
To further honor the memory of the three who died, the Volkssporters group is raising funds to install a memorial brick at each woman’s church as well as a memorial plaque to be installed at St. Matthew’s Church, where the deaths occurred. The group has set up a memorial account for the effort. Donations, in check form, can be made payable to ESCV-Memorial Fund, and mailed to Memorial Committee, ESCV, P.O. Box 5464, Clifton Park, NY, 12065.
Pat Reed of Saratoga Springs, who has been walking with the group since 1987, knew all three of the women.
“It’s a sad thing for everybody that we lost them, their families lost them. The poor woman who created the problem, she’s had a tough time as well,” she said, choking back tears as she walked with the group Wednesday.
LuAnn Burgess, 56, of Voorheesville, the driver of the SUV that struck the three walkers, was indicted on felony manslaughter charges Aug. 8, just less than one year after the incident occurred. She was also charged with misdemeanor counts of driving while ability impaired by the combined influence of drugs and reckless driving, in addition to the traffic violations of driving at an unreasonable or imprudent speed and exceeding the speed limit.
Burgess pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released on her own recognizance. If convicted of aggravated vehicular manslaughter, she could face up to 25 years in prison.