Heather Bejma (Marciel), a 27-year-old mother and Port Washington resident, was on her way to Little Friends Learning Center in Fredonia where she worked on Tuesday when she lost control of her vehicle on a slick rural road and crashed into a utility pole at just after 8:30 a.m.
She was pronounced dead at the scene, and although authorities are not sure what caused her to lose control of the vehicle, they do believe she was not wearing a seatbelt. The accident happened near the intersection of County Hwy. H and Hawthorn Road.
"She was an amazing teacher and a great mom," said Brooke San Felippo, the center's director. "It was a hard day yesterday — we're all trying to get back on track."
Bejma's 4-year-old daughter, Gabrelle, attended the day care with her mother. Gabrelle was riding in the back seat and properly restrained in a child safety seat at the time of the crash; she was transported to Aurora Medical Center with minor injuries, according to a press release from the .
Passers-by Extracted, Comforted Daughter
Chris Bast Pannier was also on her way to work when she came across the scene. A man, who saw the accident, was already by Bejma's van.
"(When I saw the accident) I called 911 and I went to the vehicle. ... Someone else had stopped in front of me," she said. "I didn’t think it looked that bad when I saw it, and the guy in front of me was visibly (shaken) because he had seen the accident — and I didn’t think it looked that bad … and he kind of had this look on his face … which made me want to walk down there (by the vehicle)."
The man who stopped before her was on the driver’s side of the vehicle, and Pannier went to the passenger side — and that's when she saw Gabrelle in the backseat.
"(She) was not hurt, but upset — crying … my concern came to this little girl. (I thought) — if that was me, what would I want someone to do? I would want someone to take care of my son, so immediately I am thinking … someone’s got to be there for this little girl," Pannier said.
Pannier took Gabrelle, who only had visible scratches on her fingers, to sit in her car while they waited for emergency personnel to arrive. Gabrelle was scared, and asked more than once about her mother because she had seen the blood. Pannier did her best to change the subject and comfort Gabrelle.
Jamie Gaffney, who also works in the day care and has known Bejma for about four years, said she has not been able to get memories of her and Bejma off her mind since she first heard about the accident.
"We used to just laugh all the time, a lot of times when we were spending time together, it was just us laughing — we would laugh at the goofy things," Gaffney said.
How You Can Help
The day care sent a letter to families who use the center after the incident, and is hoping to generate some donations to help Heather’s daughter, Gabrelle, and husband, Daniel Marciel.
"The loss we feel for her and her family is indescribable," the letter said. "We would like to do a charity fundraiser for Gabby and her father to show our love and support. We thought gift cards would be a good way to help the family."
Anyone who wants to send gift cards to the family can contact the center for details by calling 262-692-9300.