Sunday, February 27, 2011

Army National Guardsman Seamus Byrne

Remember Our Heroes

A decorated Afghanistan War hero who survived a suicide bomb attack was fatally struck by a car while crossing a dangerous intersection in Long Island on Sunday morning, February 27, 2011.

Seamus Byrne of Smithtown, was hit while walking home with his wife after celebrating his 33rd birthday party with family and friends at a nearby restaurant, his family said.

Byrne turned back to say a final goodbye to lingering guests and, on his way back, stepped onto the crosswalk of a six-lane road when the car struck him.

Byrne's wife, Michelle, a nurse, attempted to resuscitate him until responders arrived. He was taken to Stony Brook University Medical Center, and was pronounced dead.

The driver was not charged and police are investigating.

James Gallagher, Byrne's father-in-law, told NBC New York the driver should have been able to see Byrne, but said the busy intersection was poorly-lit.

Newsday reported there were 359 crashes from 2003 through 2008 on the nearby stretch of Route 111, the road where Byrne was killed, according to the state Department of Transportation.

"It's a dangerous intersection," Gallagher said. "There's really no one to blame. It was just one of those things where it was the wrong place at the wrong time."

Byrne, who served in the National Guard, was awarded a Purple Heart in 2008 after his Humvee convoy was attacked by a suicide bomber. Byrne escaped with a concussion, but nine others were killed.

The event deeply affected Byrne, his family said.

Rick Silecchio, Byrne's younger cousin who was deployed in Afghanistan at the same time, was one of the first family members to talk to Byrne about the attack when the two met before flying home together.

He said Byrne, the father of two young children, Seamus Jr., 10 and Ashley, 3, couldn't stop talking about seeing his family again on the long flight back, Silecchio said.

"He said that after that happened he just couldn’t wait to go home and hug his wife and kids,” said Silecchio, 23. “After coming so close to losing everything he just wanted to be a better husband and a better father than when he left.”

But like many other veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Byrne struggled to adjust to life at home and was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder shortly after being discharged.

Still, Silecchio said, he handled it well. “He did everything he could to make sure it was a smooth transition for him and his kids.”

Seamus and Michelle were high school sweethearts from their days at Kings Park High School and married two years after graduating. The couple recently purchased their first home together and Byrne, who worked in construction as a carpenter, kept both of them busy with various home improvement projects.

“My daughter is devastated,” Gallagher said. “He was a really loving husband and father. He was just taken early.”

In October 2008, Mr Byrne suffered severe head injuries in Afghanistan after a suicide bomber struck close to the Humvee he was travelling in.

Nine others died in the attack, which left Mr Byrne with post-traumatic stress disorder. He served in the Army National Guard’s Fighting 69th Infantry Regiment.

He spent several months in hospital, but returned to his Long Island home two years ago and began working as a carpenter.

He lived there with his wife and two children, Seamus Jr, ten, and Ashley, three.

He and Michelle were childhood sweethearts who met in kindergarten and went through school together. He was a footballer and she was a cheerleader.

Mr Gallagher told the Post his son-in-law had left Napper Tandy’s Irish Pub in Long Island and was crossing the road to go home when he realised he had forgotten to say goodbye to someone.

Seamus was not drinking - never has - so it was not in any way a drinking related accident on Seamus' part.

He was hit by a 1998 Honda as he turned to go back. Police say it was driven by Michael Armentano, 24.

They are investigating but have so far ruled the crash was an accident.

Mr Gallagher told the New York Daily News: 'He was very happy with his friends celebrating life. He just wasn't looking at the traffic, and he walked in front of a car.'

According to the Post, he said: 'Michelle is taking this really hard she’s just unable to talk about it right now. She's just crying.'

He told the newspaper Mr Byrne's parents are 'devastated'. He said: 'They're grieving very terribly right now.'

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