Photo & Story by Tamara Hartman
There is a Christmas tree for Santas presents, bright toy soldiers stand guard in the window, and two-year-old Catherine Lamberson doesnt understand why her mommy seems to cry all the time.
"Mommy, dont cry. You pray to God and the boo-boo will go away," she said.
And Anne Lamberson of Whitestone does pray to God everyday.
"Im so, so sorry for what has happened to her and her life," Anne said about Angela Igwe, who was driving with her four children in the car on Sept. 30 when it collided with the ambulance Anne was driving. Three of her children died.
"I pray for her night and day. I pray to her three children for their mother. They were innocent, so I believe God took them right to Heaven and they are three little angels. Now I pray to four children instead of one," who was Matthew Lamberson.
Matthew was born with brain cancer and lived until he was almost 4-years-old to the surprise of his doctors. They say he lived on his mothers love.
"I always wanted to help people," the young woman who grew up attending P.S. 79, 193, J.H.S. 185 and then Bayside High School, said. "After Matthew was born, I really wanted to help," and after Matthews passing, Anne decided to become an Emergency Medical Technician. She took a job with a private ambulance company to keep her active until the new Fire Department test when she could become an EMT for the F.D.N.Y.
And on Sept. 30, as she worked a night shift in Brooklyn where she had asked not to be assigned because she didnt know the neighborhoods well, Anne had a car accident while she was driving the ambulance.
A late-night accident that left her in tears and, to her disbelief, facing 11 criminal charges, ranging from Manslaughter to Reckless Endangerment.
"Thats not what was supposed to happen that night. We were supposed to help somebody. I would let myself die if I could rather than those innocent children," she said as she told her story which bold, daily headlines never captured in the weeks since that night.
She had been with Transcare ambulance for four months and she was stationed outside a Brooklyn hospital when the call came over the radio "I need you on a priority." She estimated her time of arrival but advised that she and her partner were looking up the location on the map.
They called again before the ambulance started moving. They were told to get rolling, and they did. Her partner was still looking at the map as they approached the intersection. When the two vehicles collided, the ambulance airbags deployed and "it was like being shot in the face with a gun." When they could, Anne and her partner left the ambulance and saw Angela Igwe "running around screaming."
They rushed to the car and began taking care of the 9-year-old who was laying next to the car. "Its all right sweetie," Anne told her, "Youre going to be all right," she said.
"Then there were just people everywhere and someone was taking my blood pressure. They took me off to the hospital."
Once there, Anne stopped a police officer. "I asked hows that child? He said Child? You mean children. Three of them are dead and the other one is brain dead. She wont make it through the night."
The nine-year-old did make it through the night, recovered, and is now home with her family.
"I started to scream at the top of my lungs. I just could not believe it. I just wanted to go home."
The doctors released her, and Anne walked into her house where her sister was babysitting her daughter, and said "I dont know how Im ever going to go on with my life knowing that three children died." She called St. Lukes Church to speak to her friend and advisor, Sister Catherine. About a half hour later the doorbell rang and her husband said there were two police officers outside. She came down holding Catherine.
"I asked them to please come in. They said to step outside, and I did. They said hand your daughter over to your husband and I questioned them. They said to do it right now or Ill take her out of your arms myself."
She wanted to go for sneakers and she wanted answers. They said "As a matter of fact you are under arrest and all your neighbors are looking. You can walk across the street with us now or you can walk across in handcuffs."
They put Anne in a downstairs cell in the 61 Pct. in Brooklyn at about 8 a.m. and she sat there until a little after 4 p.m., wondering what was going on. Then they brought her upstairs and handcuffed her outside of a cell while an officer commented, "Weve gotta get going with her. Theyre waiting. Theyre waiting."
No one could offer her information and she didnt understand about "perp walks" or that it was almost time for the five oclock news. She heard about reporters and asked to go out a back door, but was reassured that there were really no reporters outside. "This is the procedure. You must," they told her.
And then they led her, in handcuffs, out the front door of the precinct. "They [photographers and reporters] were screaming my name and Anne, look this way. I didnt know what was going on. I was afraid that I must have fell off the earth and everyone had gone nuts. They were swarming me and then I heard the lenses hitting the police car window as they were still trying to get a picture."
They told her she was going to "The Tombs" which was Brooklyn Central Booking. There they took her mug shot and she told them "Somebody’s gotta talk to the dispatcher. Please, no ones listening to me. It was an accident on an emergency call."
She was put into another cell with at times as many as 12 women. One female officer was very kind, but the guard who came on shift after her wasnt. The women were all handcuffed together and moved from cell to cell. "It was just disgusting, literally freezing," and she thought "I gotta get outta here. This is crazy . . . a complete nightmare."
Twenty-seven hours after being arrested, Anne got to appear in front of a judge and hear in detail exactly what was going on. Her bond was set at $100,000 but her lawyer succeeded in getting it lowered to $25,000, and last month down to $5,000, which her mother collected from friends and neighbors.
For four days after that, she couldnt get into her house because of the TV cameras and reporters surrounding it. Neighbors were stopped on the street and doorbells rung with questions about what kind of people the Lambersons were and what Anne was like. Once she did sneak in, she had to call the Police three times to have reporters and cameramen taken off her property.
"So many bad things about me were printed in the newspaper. There was Commissioner Safir on TV saying that I had no right to have lights and sirens on. They made me sound like I was a monster . . . like my ambulance was Godzilla stomping through Brooklyn . . . nobody took the time to ask me about that night." And a local volunteer ambulance corps reprinted the stories, posting them in Annes town and neighboring towns saying she didnt drive for them and she never would.
But those same neighbors who were questioned by reporters and held their ground about the good character of their neighbor are now banding together to help Annes defense. Donations to the Anne Lamberson Defense Fund can be made c/o Joseph Brintle Law Office, 150-44 12 Rd., Whitestone, New York 11357. Anne and her husband are also grateful for the support they received from the clergy, sisters and parish of St. Lukes where they have volunteered their time over the years.
"I dont know why I was arrested. Whats it going to serve if I am convicted. If it did some kind of service for me to be in jail, Id say okay, so be it. But it was an accident . . . I am not a criminal."
However, "I know what it is like to lose a child. I dont sleep anymore. I pray for Matthew to be with those children," Anne said, worried about Angela Igwe as she faces her first Christmas without some of her children. "That first Christmas without Matthew was just devastating to me. I just wish I could be with her," she said.
When An Accident Ends In Tragedy I Pray To Those Three Little Angels Every Day
Photo & Story by Tamara Hartman