He cannot say why it touched him in the way it did. Brian Duff never met the young lady. He never haunted a skatepark. There were numerous points of separation between the 41-year old sports broadcaster and the 18-year-old longboarding free spirit.
There was just something about her, brought alive through the words of friends and family, that gave Alix Rice a life after death. It was easy for Duff to picture the kid who named her longboard “Rupert” and stashed it in her school locker. She was the only girl working at Bocce Pizza, trading wisecracks with the guys. She once took the bus from Amherst to downtown, to see what City Hall looked like. There was a lot of life in the long-limbed girl with the doe eyes and big smile.
“Seeing her picture, and hearing the stories [about her], just drew me into the story,” said Duff, the stick-thin studio host for Sabres telecasts. “Plus the drunk driving issue – I have two kids, eight and five.”
Unlike most of us, Duff’s expression of sympathy went beyond a prayer, a tear, a blogpost. He felt that Alix’s life deserved more of a legacy than words. It needed something lasting, something that would please the girl who would have celebrated her 20th birthday two Saturdays ago.
When he heard about an Alix Rice fundraiser last summer, Duff contacted organizer Jon Fulcher – who himself had been moved to act in Alix’s memory. Duff, Fulcher and a handful of others – notably Rice’s mother, Tammy Schueler – are working to build a skatepark in memory of the Amherst teenager (www.alixrice.com).
She was killed two summers ago on Heim Road by drunk-driving doctor James Corasanti. Astoundingly, a jury failed to convict Corasanti of a felony, even though he drove off, claiming he didn’t know he hit someone. (A judge later sentenced Corasanti to the one-year maximum on the misdemeanor conviction.)
Duff, Fulcher & Co. will soon nail down the skatepark site – possibly Paradise Park – with town officials. They formed a non-profit and are lining up corporate donors. They held a third fundraiser last month.
The larger message is self-evident. This story did not end with the lawyers and courts. It is like a living organism, an ongoing saga, with its own moral and resolution, written by good-hearted people: Triumph can come from tragedy. The darkest cloud can sprout a silver lining.
Rising from the bile of a bursting life cut short is a community’s desire to patch a wound, to balance a wrong.
“That’s what Jon [Fulcher] told me,” said Tammy Schueler. “He wanted to do something to show me and Richard [Alix’s father] that the community cared.”
We met Wednesday evening in Schueler’s Amherst apartment. Alix’s photo dominates a living-room wall. It is a head-and-shoulders shot of the dark-haired teen, index finger playfully raised in a Shhhsh gesture.
I asked Tammy Schueler what the rallies and fundraisers meant to her.
“I am beyond touched and honored,” she told me, tears falling, “that people I never knew before want to help, and to see that she will be remembered.”
The courts and the lawyers are done. The community – behind Duff and Fulcher – carries on. A skatepark in Alix’s name will permanently mark her presence on the planet.
“I just picture my girl smiling down on us,” Tammy told me, “and thinking that this is all so neat.”