News neediest: A single mother deals with myriad hurdles after being badly …

Petite and soft-spoken with a hint of an Alabama accent, Sonia Whitlock tries to smile and look for positives. But she can’t stop the tears as she talks about a life-changing car crash and what that means to the future for her and her family.

“It’s hard. I just take it one day at a time,” Whitlock said.

At age 39, the Niagara Falls mother of three had already been dealt some tough breaks in life, losing both her parents within five months of each other in 2011. She grew up in Alabama, but had been living in Buffalo since 1998. She went to Georgia for a time to be near family and returned this past year.

She recently settled in with her family in a nice, three-bedroom apartment in Niagara Falls and found work as an assistant manager at a 7-Eleven.

But within months of her return, she was dealt another blow: On the evening of Sept. 28, she was seriously injured, nearly losing her left arm, after being trapped in a rollover crash. Her two youngest children, daughters Skylar, 4, and Summer, 3, were in the SUV, a Ford Expedition, but were not injured. Her 16-year-old son, Wardell – “Wardy” – was not with them.

She said the man whose car they struck was able to get the two girls out without injury, but she was trapped with her arm crushed under the truck, bones protruding. The truck was lifted to free her, and then she was airlifted to Erie County Medical Center.

Whitlock has been unable to use her left arm since the crash and has no feeling in her fingers. She said it remains unclear whether doctors will be able to save her arm. She was hospitalized for three weeks and has had seven surgeries since September. More surgeries and intensive therapy are expected to take more than a year.

Left alone to care for herself and her children, she admits she is struggling. She has her necessities covered, such as food, rent, utilities and medical care, but as she waits to be approved for disability, she has no cash coming in.

Wardy is a big help and a great big brother, walking his sisters to Head Start classes, running errands, making dinners and helping around the house, but Whitlock said she can’t even afford to buy him a winter coat and sadly there is nothing extra for Christmas – not even a tree.

“He would really like a bike and a trailer to pull the girls to school; he said they walk pretty slow,” Whitlock said.

But she’s getting some help.

This past week, a nurse referred Whitlock to the Heart, Love and Soul Food Pantry, where Sister Beth Brosmer, executive director, met with her.

“We can get that for you,” she told Whitlock in a calm and reassuring voice. “We can get that for you.”

Brosmer’s organization is a United Way of Greater Niagara agency and benefits from donations to The News Neediest Fund, which accepts toys and cash donations to purchase holiday meals and gifts for families, including Whitlock’s. Brosmer said they will distribute toys to more than 300 children at Niagara Falls Boys and Girls Club through the help of The News Neediest Fund and other members of the Western New York Holiday Partnership. Now in its 32nd year, the News Neediest drive benefited nearly 11,000 families in Western New York last year.

“We certainly can help them, and we are going to get them a tree,” Brosmer said.

She also offered to provide a box of food for the Christmas meal and clothing gifts for the children.

She said her food pantry provides holiday meals in a box to 325 households, serves breakfast and lunch every day, 50 for breakfast and 60 for lunch, and supplements 700 individuals on a monthly basis at the food pantry and dining room at 939 Ontario St. in Niagara Falls.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do, waking up Christmas morning having nothing,” Whitlock said. “The warmth of Christmas is very special to me.”

She agreed to be interviewed by The Buffalo News to help put a face on the struggling families who are helped by the Fund.

She said her wish is to have use of her arm, be able to do things with her kids, have a normal life, go back to work and “just be able to buy soap and toilet paper.”

“It’s crazy how your life can change in the blink of an eye,” Whitlock said.

email: nfischer@buffnews.com

Niagara falls Police cruiser and car collide on Pine Avenue

NIAGARA FALLS – A Niagara Falls police cruiser was involved in a two-car crash Friday night, this time sending both drivers to the hospital.

Just before 10 p.m. Friday, in the 2400 block of Pine Avenue, an eastbound car operated by a 19-year-old woman crossed the center line and struck the cruiser, police said. The officer, identified only as a four-year veteran of the force, was released after treatment in an area hospital. The other driver, also unidentified, was being evaluated at the same hospital but her injuries were not believed to be serious. The crash is being investigated.

About 8:40 p.m. Wednesday, a police cruiser also was involved in a two-car crash in the 1400 block of Main Street. Traffic Capt. Angela Munn said. A three-year veteran of the force was responding to an emergency, with lights and siren activated when the crash occurred. He was not hurt. The other unidentified driver, a 75-year-old man, also escaped injury. No charges were filed in the Wednesday crash and an investigation is under way..

Ex-Napster boss killed in bike crash

A former high-ranking executive at controversial music website Napster died in a bike accident on Sunday.

Milton Olin, Jr., 65, who was Napster’s chief operating officer from 2000 to 2002, passed away after his bicycle was in collision with a cop car in Los Angeles.

A police officer was treated in hospital for cuts to his face following the incident on Mulholland Highway, but no one else is believed to have been hurt.

Olin, Jr. was pronounced dead at the scene, according to TMZ.com. Police are investigating the incident.

Napster operated as a music-sharing website until it temporarily shut in 2001 amid legal action for copyright infringement. It went into liquidation before being relaunched as an online music store.

 

Niagara family keeps son’s memory alive

Arif Merani was only two months away from earning his law degree at Carleton University when his life was cut short by tragedy.

On Oct. 15, the 22-year-old Niagara Falls native was struck and killed by a car on Highway 401.

“He was a gentle giant,” said his father Mo Merani.

“He was a kind soul. He didn’t ask for much and was content with everything in his life.”

Merani said his son’s dream was to be a lawyer and to fight for the right’s of women.

In support of Merani’s goal, his family has launched a fundraiser to benefit Gillian’s Place in St. Catharines.

“We want to continue his legacy,” Merani said.

“He was going to specialize in aboriginal law and the justice system and Gillian’s Place serves a lot of aboriginal women so we want to support them.”

Donations boxes have been placed at the Royal Bank on Lundy’s Lane, the Bank of Montreal at Niagara Square, the Royal Bank on Front St. in Thorold and First Ontario Credit Union on Albert St. in Thorold.

The donation boxes will be on display until mid-January and donations can also be made at the counter in Merani’s name.

“This will be a lifetime project for us,” his father said. “This will become a yearly event.”

Merani, a graduate of Saint Paul High School, was passionate about sports, particularly football and basketball so the family is also planning on hosting a fundraising basketball or golf tournament next year.

Merani was heading back to school in Ottawa on Oct. 15 after visiting family and friends in Niagara Falls when he pulled over on Highway 401 because he suspected he had a flat tire.

As he exited the driver’s side door, he was struck by a passing vehicle.

“That night he was telling me that he wanted to help women,” his father said. “He was almost done school so you would think he’d be thinking about parties or girls, but he was thinking about abused women.”

Niagara family keeps son’s memory alive

Arif Merani was only two months away from earning his law degree at Carleton University when his life was cut short by tragedy.

On Oct. 15, the 22-year-old Niagara Falls native was struck and killed by a car on Highway 401.

“He was a gentle giant,” said his father Mo Merani.

“He was a kind soul. He didn’t ask for much and was content with everything in his life.”

Merani said his son’s dream was to be a lawyer and to fight for the right’s of women.

In support of Merani’s goal, his family has launched a fundraiser to benefit Gillian’s Place in St. Catharines.

“We want to continue his legacy,” Merani said.

“He was going to specialize in aboriginal law and the justice system and Gillian’s Place serves a lot of aboriginal women so we want to support them.”

Donations boxes have been placed at the Royal Bank on Lundy’s Lane, the Bank of Montreal at Niagara Square, the Royal Bank on Front St. in Thorold and First Ontario Credit Union on Albert St. in Thorold.

The donation boxes will be on display until mid-January and donations can also be made at the counter in Merani’s name.

“This will be a lifetime project for us,” his father said. “This will become a yearly event.”

Merani, a graduate of Saint Paul High School, was passionate about sports, particularly football and basketball so the family is also planning on hosting a fundraising basketball or golf tournament next year.

Merani was heading back to school in Ottawa on Oct. 15 after visiting family and friends in Niagara Falls when he pulled over on Highway 401 because he suspected he had a flat tire.

As he exited the driver’s side door, he was struck by a passing vehicle.

“That night he was telling me that he wanted to help women,” his father said. “He was almost done school so you would think he’d be thinking about parties or girls, but he was thinking about abused women.”

Teen stole car part from wrecked Porsche in Paul Walker crash: Police

An 18-year-old accused of stealing a rooftop panel from the wrecked Porsche in the crash that killed “Fast and Furious” actor Paul Walker was in custody on Friday, Los Angeles sheriff’s officials said.

Jameson Witty was arrested at his home in Los Angeles on Thursday, and a second suspect was arranging to turn himself in, authorities said.

On the day of the Nov. 30 crash, someone using the Instagram service handle “jamesonwitty” posted photos of a portion of the roof of a red Porsche and wrote, “Piece of Paul walkers (sic) car, took it off a tow truck at a stop light.”

It was not immediately clear whether the photos were genuine, but sheriff’s deputies arrested Witty after searching his home.

Walker was a passenger in a fiery one-car crash in Santa Clarita, California, about 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles, that also killed 38-year-old driver Roger Rodas over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

The 40-year-old actor, best known for his roles in the “Fast and Furious” action films, died from multiple injuries, the Los Angeles County coroner said on Wednesday.

The coroner said Walker’s death resulted from “traumatic and thermal injuries.” While the coroner did not elaborate, thermal injuries are heat-related and are commonly burns.

The crash prompted Universal Pictures this week to suspend production of the seventh installment in its lucrative car racing film franchise.

After the crash, rescue crews loaded the wrecked car onto a flat-bed tow truck. Several vehicles followed the truck as it left the scene for a tow-yard, where detectives planned to examine it for evidence of what happened in the accident, the sheriff’s department said.

When the truck stopped at a traffic light, a man got out of a car, ran up to the tow vehicle and grabbed a panel from the wrecked Porsche Carrera GT, a witness told investigators.

Deputies later found the red, T-top roof panel at a home in the Los Angeles suburb of Canyon Country.

The second man believed to be involved in the theft is a 25-year-old who was outside the state on Thursday but was making plans to turn himself in, deputies said.

Witty was booked on suspicion of felony grand theft and evidence tampering, with bail set at $20,000, deputies said.

Investigators are continuing to seek a cause for the one-car crash.

Paul Walker tributes to be cleared from crash site

Tributes left at the spot where Paul Walker died on Saturday are to be cleared by city officials amid concerns they are causing a hazard for motorists, according to a U.S. report.

The actor and his friend Roger Rodas perished in a car crash between Kelly Johnson Parkway and Hercules Street in Santa Clarita, California, and fans have since rushed to pay their respects by leaving flowers, candles and posters on the site.

However, according to editors at TMZ.com, Santa Clarita city officials fear the memorabilia has piled up and created a problem for road users, so the tributes are to be removed.

Officials will also enforce a no parking policy near the scene of the crash.

Actor Paul Walker died of traumatic and thermal injuries in car crash: L.A. coroner

LOS ANGELES - 

Actor Paul Walker, best known for his roles in the “Fast Furious” action films, died from “combined effects of traumatic and thermal injuries” in a car accident, the Los Angeles County coroner said on Wednesday.

Walker, 40, was a passenger in a fiery one-car crash on Saturday in Santa Clarita, California, about 30 miles (50 km) northwest of Los Angeles. The driver of the Porsche Carrera GT, Roger Rodas, died of multiple traumatic injuries, the coroner said.

 

 

Coroner still trying to identify bodies in Paul Walker crash

The Los Angeles coroner studying the death of actor Paul Walker has revealed he still hasn’t been able to identify if the star was the driver or passenger of the wrecked Porsche Carrera GT.

Autopsies on the Fast and Furious star and his friend and business partner Roger Rodas have been completed but final results are not yet available, and the final identification of the bodies will not begin until Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Craig Harvey of the Los Angeles County coroner’s office tells the publication, “No results will be released until at the earliest, tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, detectives investigating Saturday’s fatal crash have still not determined what caused it.

It is believed Rodas was behind the wheel of the sportscar when he lost control and the vehicle collided with a lamppost and a tree and burst into flames.

‘Wheel of Fortune’ calls ‘Fast and Furious’ puzzle ‘unfortunate’

LOS ANGELES – We’d like to solve the puzzle, Pat: Extremely Bad Timing.

Long-running game show “Wheel of Fortune” was left scrambling to explain itself on Monday, after an episode featured a puzzle with the solution “The Fast and the Furious” – just days after “Fast and Furious” star Paul Walker’s death in a fiery car wreck at age 40.

The show took to its Twitter account Monday night to explain that the episode had taped in early October, and that its airing Monday night was “an unfortunate coincidence.”

“The show that included the puzzle ‘The Fast and The Furious’ was taped on 10/4/13. It’s an unfortunate coincidence that it aired tonight,” a tweet posted Monday night read.

“The hearts of everyone at Wheel of Fortune go out to the family, friends fans of Paul Walker,” the show added.

“Wheel of Fortune” host Pat Sajak also weighed in via Twitter, adding that he felt “terrible” about the incident.

“Feel terrible about timing of ‘Fast Furious’ puzzle tonight,” Sajak wrote. “Taped long ago went out to 200 local stations days ago.”

Walker died on Saturday, when a Porsche driven by his friend and business associate, Roger Rodas, crashed following a charity event in Santa Clarita, Calif.

Autopsies for Walker and Rodas are taking place Tuesday.