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Queens Chronicle

RHSCA Plans Memorial Sign For John Adams High School

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Posted: Thursday, February 5, 2004 12:00 am

When an alumnus of John Adams High School was killed while test-driving the AirTrain in late 2002, the extended “Adams Family” grieved alongside the victim’s closest relatives. Now the school wants to create a vibrant reminder for the students with help from a local civic association.

Principal Grace Zwillenberg met with Richmond Hill South Civic Association President Margaret Finnerty and a dozen others in the school’s library Monday night to discuss plans for an LED sign which will be dedication to Kelvin DeBourgh Jr. The sign will cost $11,000, and the idea has the full support of Finnerty, the school and the DeBourgh family.

Finnerty, a John Adams graduate, came up with the idea for the sign months ago and pitched it as a way to memorialize DeBourgh. There will be a wooden frame around the illuminated sign with his name engraved on it. The Port Authority will also create a memorial to DeBourgh but does not yet have final plans.

“This is a great way to bring the community together. Sometimes I drive by the school on Saturday and see people leaving the school, and I asked ‘Why are those people leaving?’ because I didn’t know what was going on,” Finnerty said.

DeBourgh, a 1998 John Adams graduate from South Jamaica, was only 23 years old when he died test-driving the AirTrain on September 27, 2002 over the Van Wyck Expressway. He was killed when he rounded a turn at 55 to 58 miles per hour and eight unsecured concrete blocks used to simulate the weight of passengers became dislodged and crushed him.

DeBourgh’s family has filed a $200 million lawsuit against the Port Authority; Bombardier Construction, the company that built the AirTrain, and two subcontractors. They say the test was “designed to fail” and that DeBourgh, a customer-service representative for the company, should not have been testing the system, which operates automatically.

Zwillenberg called DeBourgh’s death tragic and said the community surrounding the school boasts large numbers of the “Adams Family,” her term for Adams alumni. “It’s a community project, and everyone who went to John Adams is in a type of community. We’re a neighborhood school, and we want to celebrate the life of a student who died.”

Zwillenberg and Finnerty hope to tap into that alumni network for donations for the sign. They already have an anonymous $5,000 donation and Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin has pledged $2,500 more.

There will also be a fundraiser dinner dance to honor four Adams alumni on April 22nd at Villa Russo caterers in Richmond Hill. The dance will run from 6:30-10:30 p.m. and will honor NBC meteorologist Chris Cimino; Assemblywoman Michelle Titus; Tommy Barcia, owner of Adrian and Rocky’s Catering in Ozone Park; and Rita Ceramita, Department of Education parent coordinator for District 5.

Tickets will cost $45. To purchase tickets, donate money, or to find out more information about the dinner dance, call RHSCS vice president Terry Saporita at 718-322-0521. For information on the special program to be published for the dinner dance, contact Jeff D at 718-845-5195.

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