Members of the Amish community began flooding the Western New York towns of Jasper and Woodhull Wednesday in order to share in the grief of losing five of their own.
Hundreds of people are expected to crowd the small farming communities to mourn the loss of life that is the result of a traffic accident that happened earlier this week in the town of Benton. Some Amish that are traveling are being driven in cars or trucks by either volunteers or “Amish haulers,” as their chauffeurs are sometimes called.
The disaster occurred Tuesday, reports The New York Times, when a van carrying 13 Amish farmers was sideswiped by a car, reportedly when the car's driver tried to pass a tractor in a no-passing zone while on a curve in the road. The driver, 42-year-old Steven A. Eldridge of Penn Yan, N.Y., has been charged with both criminally negligent homicide and driving while intoxicated, among other lesser charges.
Five died in the incident, and 10 others were injured. Those who died have been identified as Anna Mary Byler, 60; Elizabeth Mast, 46; Melvin Hostetler, 40; Melvin Hershberger, 42; and Sarah Miller, 47.
Miller reportedly left behind 14 children in all, five boys and nine girls, most of whom still live at home. Dozens of children lost at least one of their parents that tragic day.
Amish funerals are held in their homes and are overseen by their elders, according to USA Today, and elders from the impacted community say that the generosity of their non-Amish neighbors has helped them deal with the tragedy they're faced with.
"Without your people, we would not be able to handle this," an Amish elder said, as reported by USA Today.
The Jasper Volunteer Fire Department posted a sign that simply read, “Our Prayers to Our Amish,” and they've begun taking donations. Area residents are grateful for the contributions of the Amish to their communities. The two societies have learned to support one another.
The Amish often rely on the townspeople to use a telephone or provide transportation, and those who have witnessed the growth of the Amish community there acknowledge the value they've instilled into local businesses and into maintaining their farming community.
Haulers have been making phone calls to relatives, delivering food, and even setting up the delivery of 13 portable toilets in preparation for all the incoming visitors. Amish men prepared for the funerals by digging graves and building coffins while the women took care of children, girls prepared food, and the boys prepared to feed additional horses that would surely come bringing mourners.
Donald B. Kraybill, professor of Amish studies at Elizabethtown College, says the Amish population in New York has increased in recent years due, in part, to “rural isolation and good, cheap farmland,” The New York Times reported. There are about 13,000 Amish living in the state today, he said, a 31 percent increase from just two years ago.
No funeral arrangements had yet been totally established, but some believe that as many as three funerals could take place on Friday.