By Bill Van Haintze
A volunteer firefighter and medic team member was struck and fatally injured by a hit-and-run vehicle as she was walking back to her car after assisting at an auto accident yesterday morning in Port Washington, police said.
Ingrid Sowle, 52, of Port Washington died at a local hospital about an hour after the accident. An off-duty Port Washington police officer, who was at the accident scene, pursued and arrested a Seaford man minutes after the crash, according to Det. Richard Brusa of the Nassau County Homicide Squad. Arrested was Michael Giovannotto, 38, of 2376 Willoughby Ave., Seaford. He was charged with leaving the scene of a fatality, driving while intoxicated, and driving with a suspended license.
Sowle was struck at 1:25 a.m. at Roslyn West Shore Drive, just north of the entrance to Hempstead Harbor Beach Park, police said. She had responded to the scene of an auto accident that occurred at about 1 a.m. and was walking back to her car, which was parked along Roslyn West Shore Drive, when she was struck by a southbound car, Brusa said. The impact threw the firefighter about 15 feet into one of several other cars owned by firefighters that were parked on the roadside.
Sowle was taken to North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, where she was pronounced dead of severe body trauma at 2:14 a.m. Sowle was taken to the hospital in the same ambulance with the accident victim she had come to help - Clemintina Ianniello, 24, of Roslyn Heights. She had been southbound alone in her car, had lost control and hit a tree at 1:05 a.m. She suffered minor facial injuries, police said. Off-duty Port Washington police officer Charles Kruithoff, who had stopped to assist at the accident scene, and was almost struck himself, chased the fleeing car in his vehicle and caught it at Willis Avenue and the north serviceroad of the Long Island Expressway in Roslyn Heights at 1:35 a.m., Brusa said. Police said the suspect's car had a flat tire and had pulled into a service station.
Sowle's supervisor in the Port Washington Fire Department Medic Company, Edward Oldack, president of the unit, said, "She took a lot of pride in her work. She enjoyed helping people. "When she joined the department a little over a year ago, she wrote on her application under reason for joining, `To be of service and assistance to the community,' " he said.
Port Washington Fire Chief Peter Zwerlein said Sowle was one of about 30 women in the 270-member department. Zwerlein said plans for departmental services would be arranged following a conference with family members.
Copyright 1990, Newsday Inc. This article originally appeared in Newsday on February 20, 1990
The last words Ingrid Sowle said to fellow Port Washington firefighter Linda Popeleski were, "I'll see you at the next call."
But at the next call, an auto accident on Roslyn West Shore Drive in Port Washington early Monday, Sowle, 52, was struck and fatally injured by a hit-and-run driver, and Popeleski could only hold Sowle's hand and try to comfort her.
Before a formal memorial service scheduled to be held last night at the department's Flower Hill Hose Co., Popeleski and her colleagues remembered Sowle as a generous co-worker who loved to listen to Kenny Rogers and Waylon Jennings, who raised poodles as a hobby and who talked fondly about her children, Ingrid Debbie, 31, Renee, 30, and Michael, 29.
Sowle's family was too upset to be interviewed yesterday. "After the Avianca crash, after the briefing I went through, I was kind of down and out," Popeleski said. "Ingrid came over, arms out, with a big bear hug. `I was so worried about you,' she said. "She adored children. I've had dogs from her for many years; she would give me the dogs," Popeleski said. "One of my dogs got hit by a car, and she brought over a new puppy all groomed, with bows in its hair. My son was teary eyed."
As Sowle waited for calls at the department's Fire Medic Co. headquarters on Port Washington Boulevard, she would watch cartoons and knit sweaters and make potholders - about two dozen potholders in the past few weeks. She earned money waitressing and babysitting and had joined the department last February. She wanted to be an emergency medical technician.
She was artistic, her co-workers said, arranging fruit trays for parties and styling women firefighters' hair for parades.
Sowle also was an assistant to Popeleski, the company steward who prepared a meal for the firefighters after their monthly meetings. "She was the best," Popeleski said. "She loved cooking. She sat there peeling potatoes for fifty-five people once. She insisted they had to be fresh potatoes. She was very good with desserts. Cool Whip cakes, lemon meringue pies, petit fours, and all by hand."
Popeleski was a student at Port Washington High School in the early 1970s when she met Sowle, a waitress at the Port Washington Clubhouse restaurant. Clubhouse owner Larry Rabago said Sowle worked for him for about two years and then went to work at another local restaurant, Jimmy's Backyard. "She was very lovely, she got along with everybody. She had a kind word for everyone," he said yesterday.
Divorced, Sowle reared her children by herself and put them all through college, department chaplain Thomas Tobin said.
Sowle was born in Berlin in 1937 and grew up in war-torn Germany. When she was 16, she came to the United States with her mother and an aunt. Tobin said Sowle's brother, Ingo Kurth, told about how as children during World War II, he and his sister were taught how to fold their clothes in a particular manner and how to dress in the dark in case they needed to evacuate. Food was so scarce, they ate plants, Tobin said.
"Most people who endure what she and her family endured probably would have sheltered themselves from outside intervention," Tobin said. "And yet at age fifty-two, she was a fire medic. She wanted to be of assistance to the community."
Only 15 months ago, another firefighter died in the line of duty. Lt. Robert H. Dayton Jr., 28, a New York City firefighter and Port Washington volunteer, died of smoke inhalation while fighting an apartment-complex fire in Port Washington.
Tobin said he hoped his eulogy would stress Sowle's selflessness and love of life as a "boost" to the rest of the department. "We of the fire service acknowledge, if not accept, the possibility of experiencing a traumatic injury or violent death as being part of the territory," he said, reading from his prepared speech. "But we seldom, if ever, attach such danger to those who minister to the sick and injured... why should such a gentle woman be the victim of violence?"
Meanwhile, the case against the man charged in connection with Sowle's death is proceeding. Sowle was struck by a passing car at 1:25 a.m. as she returned to her car on Roslyn West Shore Drive after responding to an auto accident. She was taken by ambulance to North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, and pronounced dead at 2:14 a.m. of severe body trauma. Charles Kruithoff, an off-duty Port Washington police officer who also stopped for the auto accident, saw what happened and chased the driver in his car to a service station where the driver stopped because of a flat tire.
The driver, Michael Giovannotto, 38, was arrested and charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident, driving while intoxicated and driving with a suspended license. The Seaford resident is being held at Nassau County jail in East Meadow in lieu of $10,000 bail, pending an appearance before a grand jury. He is being represented by an attorney at the Federal Defender's Unit of the Legal Aid Society in Westbury. The attorney could not be reached for comment yesterday.
In 1985, Giovannotto pleaded guilty to driving while impaired. His license was suspended, and he was fined $350. The state Motor Vehicles Department took away Giovannotto's driver's license in 1987 when he failed to answer two summonses. Although he had no license when arrested Monday, police charged him with driving with a suspended license because the two offenses are classified the same way under state law, officials said.
A funeral mass for Sowle was to be said today at 9:30 a.m. at Our Lady of Fatima Roman Catholic Church in Manorhaven. Interment was to follow at Nassau Knolls Cemetery.
Copyright 1990, Newsday Inc. This article originally appeared in Newsday on February 23, 1990
NETWORKING THE WOMEN OF TODAY'S FIREFIGHTING WORLD, AND PROVIDING RESOURCES TO HELP BUILD THE FIRE SERVICE OF THE FUTURE