When Tropical Storm Isabel hit Maryland last year, knocking out power to thousands, the LaDue family of Elkridge shared a generator and barbecued food with eight other families on their close-knit cul-de-sac.
Yesterday, families from that community shared their grief after learning that the LaDues' SUV had been involved in a collision with a tractor-trailer in north-central Pennsylvania on Wednesday morning that took the lives of Richard LaDue, 42, and his son, Brandon, 11.
Brenda LaDue and her daughter, McKenna, 7, survived the crash with minimal injuries. The LaDue family was headed to Trumansburg, N.Y., to visit Brenda LaDue's family, then planned to visit Syracuse, where Richard LaDue's mother and sister live.
"Rich was a tremendous father. Brandon's one of the best little boys anybody could know," said Dan Northrup, Brenda LaDue's brother, from the family home in Trumansburg.
A memorial Mass will be offered for father and son Monday at St. James Catholic Church in Trumansburg, he said.
In Elkridge, neighbors and friends from the family church, St. Augustine Catholic Church, from Brandon's hockey team and from the children's schools expressed shock, sadness and deep admiration for the LaDues, whom they described as a popular family devoted to children and community.
"They're a great family. Richard was the kind of dad who gave time for his family, even when he didn't have it. He was a dad and husband first, very compassionate," said David Hartman, who lives two doors away with his wife and two children.
"They're just absolutely fantastic people, the best neighbors you could imagine," said Kathy Butler, a neighbor for 18 months. "They had a knack for bringing people together."
"Brandon was an honor student," said Tom Saunders, principal at Elkridge Landing Middle School, where Brandon was in the sixth grade. "He had a gift to make people laugh. It's just tragic. Words can't express the emotions that are going on here."
Saunders said a school system crisis intervention team provided counseling to 65 pupils Wednesday and yesterday.
Pennsylvania State Police said the LaDues' Ford Explorer was northbound on Route 15 Wednesday, about 30 miles north of Williamsport, when it skidded on ice about 9:15 a.m. The SUV crossed the grassy median and the two southbound lanes, stopping on the southbound shoulder, said Trooper Mike Knight.
Richard LaDue got out, walked back to the median to retrieve his front license plate and was in the southbound lanes when a tractor-trailer emerged from a curve and jack-knifed in an attempt to avoid hitting him, Knight said.
The skidding truck hit Richard LaDue and the right rear of the Explorer, where Brandon was sitting, police said. Brenda and McKenna LaDue were taken to Williamsport Hospital, treated and released, and taken to Trumansburg by relatives.
The truck driver, Edivaldo Pereira, 32, of Elizabeth, N.J., also was treated and released, authorities said.
Brandon, who played left wing on the Pee Wee Silver Howard Huskies ice hockey team, was recovering from a broken collarbone he suffered in a game, said head coach Bob Preller.
"Brandon was just a great kid. When he got hurt, Brandon [came to] every game," Preller said, adding that he had 11 goals and three assists this season.
"He was just an awesome kid, very happy and very polite," said Bob Tibbs, team manager, who had known Brandon for five years.
Both parents were involved in Brandon's hockey team. Richard worked the penalty box and volunteered for more duties. Brenda scheduled the team's activities.
St. Augustine's pastor, the Rev. Gerard J. Bowen, said more than 120 people attended a 7 a.m. Mass and memorial service yesterday for the LaDue family. Because of renovations, they overwhelmed the convent chapel, spilling out into the living room and sitting room, and lining a stairway.
"We really thought we would only have a handful of families from the neighborhood," Bowen said, noting that the family is deeply religious and gave the children religion lessons at home.
Five women from the LaDues' Marshalee Estates neighborhood set out yesterday morning to fly to upstate New York to comfort Brenda LaDue and her daughter. Their plane made an emergency landing at La Guardia Airport in New York City, however, and the women were scheduled to fly back to Maryland last night, said David Hartman, the neighbor.
Brenda LaDue was also involved at Rockburn Elementary School, where McKenna is in second grade and where Brandon attended until this year.
"They're just beautiful people," said Rockburn's acting principal, Heidi Balter, who also is a neighbor.
"I live on the same street. We see each other all the time. Brenda is a substitute. She's here almost every day," Balter said.
Children at Rockburn made cards for the survivors, and a support fund is being set up, Balter said.
Hartman said the reality of what happened had not fully dawned on his children, ages 9 and 7, who often played with Brandon and McKenna.
"It's still sinking in with them. They don't understand the permanence," he said.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Richard LaDue's survivors include his mother, Kathleen LaDue, and sister, Crystal Wilmer, both of Syracuse; and a brother, Bruce LaDue of Oklahoma.
Hartman said a Web site should be functioning today at www.richardandbrandonladue.com for information about the family's situation and to allow people to post messages.