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First Responders Unite to Send Kids of Couple Killed in Sandy to Disney

Mendham Township rallies to send the children of Rich and Beth Everett on Florida vacation.

Everyone who hears the story of the Everett family is drawn to learn more. The family of six were Randolph residents who owned a popular horse farm in Long Valley. They were universally embraced by both communities, which is what made the tragedy that struck the night of superstorm Sandy all the more devastating.

During the apex of the storm, the lives of Zoe, Talia, Theodore and Pierce Everett were changed forever when a tree fell on the four-door Chevy Silverado driven by their father, Richard. Their mother, Elizabeth, was the front-seat passenger and both were killed instantly. Fourteen-year-old Theodore and 11-year-old Pierce were in the back seat of the truck, and first-responders on the scene in Mendham were profoundly affected by the accident. 

Mendham Township Police Sgt. Ross Johnson was one of the officers at the scene on North Gate Road and said that immediately after the storm people in and around Mendham began to work toward helping the family. Their efforts paid off with a paid vacation to Disney World for the Everett children.

Community Rallies to Help

The Everetts' oldest daughter, Zoe, was attending college at Rutgers and immediately moved home to take care of her younger siblings. A ; that was just the beginning.

When Johnson was in a subsequent meeting with the Morris-Somerset PBA, where Mendham Township is a member, he said the discussion quickly turned on what else could be done for the family facing their first holiday season without their parents.

Enter Evan “Buzzy” Thomas, the Mendham Township Office of Emergency Management Director. Thomas said it was after meeting Zoe Everett that the entire plan came together in his mind.

“Zoe wanted to meet the first responders down at the Ralston Firehouse,” Buzzy said. “She said the police had given them four season passes for Great Adventure, and they were very appreciative.”

Thomas said once the idea to send the family to Disney World was on the table, it quickly became a mission.

“Once you meet the girl, she is just unbelievable,” Thomas said. “She is still going to school at Rutgers while she is taking care of her family. She is something special and we wanted to do something special for them.”

Thomas said he discussed the idea with Johnson and with Ralston Fire Capt. Scott Mortensen.

“We decided the PBA would pick up the tab for the airfare to and from Florida and the Ralston Fire Company paid for all ground transportation to and from the airport,” Thomas said.

Christmas Eve Delivery

It was Thomas himself who delivered the Christmas packages, and a trip to Disney World to the Everett family at their home in Randolph on Christmas Eve.

“My daughters wrapped up suntan lotion and sunglasses and the 11-year-old was asking what it was for and finally at the bottom of the bag it said that they were going to Disney.”

Thomas said the family was overwhelmed, and that Zoe wanted very much to make the trip just about the four of them.

“This was huge for them this is their first trip away,” Thomas said. “This is what they wanted to do, they wanted to be independent.”

Of course, there were certain logistics to consider, like the fact that 20-year-old Zoe couldn’t rent a car.

Fortunately, Thomas took care of those things with a few phone calls.

“I called some friends I knew in Disney and Universal Studios. We got them park passes and all the meals taken care of,” Thomas said. “And my friends Brian and Lisa Maloney are driving them back and forth each day.”

For his part, Thomas says he only is “bothering” them by phone a few times each day. And that special events not even he knows about are being set up for the family throughout the week at each park. 

“I bothered them a little bit the first two days and my wife told me to stop,” Thomas said. “But you can’t help but feel responsible for them.”

Johnson said the fact that the accident didn’t involve members of the Mendham community didn’t matter at all.

“The tragedy happened here,” Johnson said. “We just wanted to do something for this family.”

Thomas, who along with Johnson and Mortensen were honored by the Morris County Freeholders for this “act of thoughtfulness” on Wednesday night, said that they only wanted to do what little they could for the family.

“You look at the devastation Sandy did, and you see what happened to this family and that is what pulled us to it,” Thomas said. “Yes, they weren’t members of this community but we wanted to reach out to them and do something special for them. It is great to see, and I think it says a lot about this community.”

concerned citizen April 12, 2013 at 03:48 AM
Refreshing to read a positive story
denise April 12, 2013 at 05:30 PM
Story was so moving it made me cry.its not the $ or the trip it's the compassion that was felt toward this family that will sustain them and is so remarkable and genuine from Thomas and all that he inspired to help the cause.Nice to know we have such amazing neighbors in this area.
Christy Ward April 12, 2013 at 05:33 PM
I love to see stories like this in the news - all about the good, not the bad. Thank you Russ!
Russ Crespolini April 12, 2013 at 07:57 PM
Absolutely the best part of my job. Thanks for reading. :-)

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