“I can’t wait till I’m 16,” exclaimed 9-year-old Samuel Steele as he straddled his dad’s white 1999 Yamaha V Star motorcycle in the parking lot of the Fulton County Visitor’s Center Sunday morning.
“I can almost touch the bottom on it,” he insisted, stretching his white high-top sneakers toward the pavement as he gripped the handlebars.
Samuel was eager to hit the road Sunday morning, even if he couldn’t be in the driver’s seat.
The boy was among a group of more than 60 motorcycle riders who came together for a benefit ride through the Adirondacks to raise funds for 5-year-old Sa’fyre Terry, who was badly burned May 2 in a Schenectady fire.
The little girl was the sole survivor of the Hulett Street blaze, which took the lives of her three siblings, Layah Terry, 3, Michael Terry, 2, and Donavan Duell, 11 months, and her father, David Terry.
Samuel said he was the first person to donate money to the benefit ride — $3 he raised mowing a lawn.
Many more donations were flowing in Sunday, the currency filling a large, clear plastic container sitting on the registration table.
Roger Steele of Broadalbin, Samuel’s dad and a longtime friend of Terry’s, organized the ride.
“I considered Dave to be a brother to me,” he said, noting that he has known Sa’fyre since she was born.
Surveying the sizeable crowd of bikers gathering in the parking lot at the visitor’s center Sunday morning, he said he was overwhelmed by the donations the effort had received from local businesses and by the response from the public.
Black T-shirts with a hot-pink “Sa’fyre — Super Survivor” logo were selling well at a table in the parking lot, along with white ones bearing a picture of the little blonde girl, taken at a happier time in her life.
Sa’fyre’s aunt, Liz Dolder, was at the table making change.
She listed the things that the proceeds from the T-shirt sale and benefit ride could be used for: Sa’fyre’s college education, her first car, a prom dress, or an iPad to help her communicate, since the little girl is still unable to speak.
Sa’fyre is recovering at Westchester Medical Center. She is a spunky and determined child, but she still has a long road ahead of her, Dolder said.
“She has to learn how to walk, to eat — just even to sit up in her bed — a simple task like that she can’t do, but she’ll be doing it soon, I know it,” she said.
Jennica Duell, Sa’fyre’s mother, was overcome with emotion as she stood at the edge of the parking lot watching strangers rumble in on their bikes before the start of the ride.
“I think it’s wonderful that not too many people here know my daughter but they’re willing to support her,” she said. “I know it’s going to mean a lot to her.”
Duell said staff at Westchester Medical Center is impressed with Sa’fyre’s recovery.
‘Her DADDY’S STRENGTH’
“Her burns are healing wonderfully; she’s moving a little more,” she said.
Sa’fyre has been moved from the hospital’s intensive care unit to the regular pediatric floor and eventually will travel to Boston for rehabilitation.
“She has her daddy’s strength,” Duell said, with tears in her eyes.
Robert A. Butler, 27, of Saratoga Springs, has been charged with setting the fire that took the life of Sa’fyre’s father and siblings. He faces one count of arson causing death. If convicted under federal law, he faces the possibility of the death penalty or life in prison without parole. Prosecutors have not said whether they intend to seek a death sentence.