From Celebration to Tragedy

By Dave Greber

May 8, 2012 Updated May 9, 2012 at 3:05 PM EST

Sayre, PA (WBNG Binghamton) Before her untimely death last fall, Nancy McQueeney was heavily involved in her community and her family, her mother, Margaret Wood said Tuesday.

And always by her side, her teen daughter, Madison, one of the many the 49-year-old leaves behind.

McQueeney was on her way to celebrate Madison's birthday – a birthday cake and presents in her black Volvo — when the life of the former Owego-Apalachin bus driver ended tragically in a horrifying crash caused by a drunk driver.

"When it first happened, we thought the man had had a heart attack," said Wood, who spent 16 years in the cardiovascular field. "I could understand that. It's hard to take, but you can understand it. But when I found out he was drunk driving. It was just, it was too much."

A graduate of Athens Area High School, Wood said her daughter was equally as popular in her youth as an adult. Before her job with Owego-Apalachin, Wood said her daughter worked in the cafeteria at IBM.
 
She involved herself in the community, and squeezed the essence out of life.

"She was a people person. She loved people," Wood said. "She'd come to the valley and everybody she saw, knew Nancy.  She was about as fun loving as they come, and she was always, always doing something for somebody else. "

That included playing an active role in ensuring her students, whose homes were damaged in September's flood, got to and from school every day, even though it required extra hours in the morning and the evening.

"She brought snacks for them if they were hungry," Wood said.

McQueeney also leaves behind a brother and sister, both of whom live out of state. Wood offered several stories of cross-country family vacations.

"I wish somebody had Nancy's laugh on tape, because we're never going to hear it again," Wood said. "And as far as I know, nobody has come forward with it. She just loved to have a good time."

Wendell Strum, a Department of Transportation worker, was driving his DOT-issued vehicle when state police say he crossed the center line on Route 434 in Owego, killing himself and McQueeney.

State Police said Strum, 79, was drunk. His blood alcohol level measured 0.12, above New York's legal limit of 0.08.

A lawsuit filed earlier this year says the DOT knew Strum had a history of drinking on the job, and that he was working at the time the crash happened.

Margaret Wood said the past seven months have been some of the toughest of her life.

"Before I left the house, I had a friend that was going to take me up. And a phone call was made, and I heard the person on the other end of the line say that Nancy was gone," Wood said. "And it's one of those things that tears your heart right out."
    
Wood has sought help, and tries to maintain a positive focus on the future, while coming to grips with a future void a critical piece.

"So many times over the past few months, something would happen, and I'd think, call Nancy, and see what she thinks, or if she wants to do such and such," Wood said. "And it's just not possible anymore."

A hearing on the lawsuit was held Tuesday morning in Court of Claims in Binghamton to set the schedule for the rest of the case. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of McQueeney's estate against the state of New York, seeks unspecified damages for pain and suffering.