By Tracey Porpora Staten Island Advance
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Wendy Pellegrino set up a makeshift memorial for the more than 250 Staten Island victims of the World Trade Center attack that has become known as Angels’ Circle.
Despite a recent move to New Jersey and bout with throat cancer, Ms. Pellegrino has continued to care for the Grasmere-based memorial with limited funding from donations.
Earlier this month, a car crashed into Angels’ Circle, mowing down a section of the wrought iron-like fence that encloses the memorial, as well as picture frames, flowers and some photos of 9/11 victims.
While the Dongan Hills-based Ariemma’s Garden Center cleaned up most of the damage, Ms. Pellegrino still needs $1,200 to repair the fence.
“The (fence) was broken, pictures got knocked down, plants were crushed and the cement was broken,” said Ms. Pellegrino, a 2003 Advance Woman of Achievement.
The driver, according to court records, was Megan Marotte, 20, of Graniteville, who has been arrested and charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Court documents say she was driving a black 2000 Dodge Intrepid. When police arrived on the scene, she exhibited a “flushed face, watery eyes, slurred speech and was unsteady on her feet,” said the court papers.
Ms. Marotte admitted, “I was driving, I took some cocaine,” at the scene to police, according to court records.
After being arraigned on July 13, Ms. Marotte is scheduled back in court on Aug. 26.
Guy Simonetti, who lives near Angels’ Circle, said he witnessed the accident and called 911.
HEARD A BANG
“At about 7 a.m. on July 12, I heard a bang, so I looked out my window, and I saw a black car up against fence,” said Simonetti.
“She had crashed right into Angels’ Circle, and was trying to back out… Her driver’s side front tire was flat, and she had extensive damage to the vehicle.”
Ms. Pellegrino said she wrote a letter to Ms. Marotte asking that she foot the bill to repair the fence.
“There was a car accident, and my client is presumed innocent. The charges are being litigated in criminal court. It’s very unfortunate that the accident location happened to be a very special place for people. Of course, there was no disrespect intended by Ms. Marotte,” said Ms. Marotte’s attorney Leo Duval, an Annadale-based lawyer.
“To the extent that we can (gather) limited resources to help with the reconstruction, that is certainly something my client and her family will very seriously consider,” he added.
Much of the damage to Angels’ Circle was repaired by Ariemma’s Garden Center, which has essentially been its caretaker, along with Ms. Pellegrino.
“We removed the fence that was broken, and we mended brick work that was there,” said Anthony Ariemma of the garden facility. “We have to replace some of the picture frames. We added new flowers and did whatever we could to repair it.”
After announcing on Facebook that Angels’ Circle needs donations, Ms. Pellegrino received $275 — but that’s not nearly enough to repair the section of fence, already estimated to be $1,200.
While she needs money to repair the current damage, she also greatly needs donations to maintain Angels’ Circle.
Through a grant, the memorial’s utility bills — for light to illuminate it at night — are paid up for the next three years. But once that is used up, Ms. Pellegrino will need money to afford the electric bill, which is about $100 per month.
“Myself and Ariemma’s Garden Center pay for candles, flowers, solo lights, lanterns and decorations,” said Ms. Pellegrino.
“I don’t want Angels’ Circle to fall by the wayside … We need to get a new generation involved so that Angels’ Circle is always taken care of.”