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Family shares memories of accident victims

November 30, 1999|By KAREN HANNA

Jackie Caldwell used to worry about the years that separated her and her boyfriend, but Nick Sabath promised he would never leave.

On Wednesday, he and his daughter never showed up.

"I called my mom, and I said, 'Mom, something's wrong. Nick's not here, and he's never late, and she said, 'You need to call the hospital,'" said Caldwell, who sobbed as she talked by phone Thursday.

Sabath and his 17-year-old daughter, Sylvia, of Hagerstown, died in a two-vehicle crash in the 21000 block of Leitersburg Pike. They were on their way to eat dinner with Caldwell, who said she heard sirens as she waited at Long Meadow Shopping Center.

To the 39-year-old Caldwell, Sabath, 49, was a savior.

She said they met about a year and a half ago at a singles dance. Like Caldwell, Sabath had experienced the pain of a failed marriage.

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On Thursday, Sabath's oldest daughter ? Sylvia's 21-year-old sister ? told Caldwell her family knew the two were meant for each other.

"She said that they thought God sent him to me as his angel, but he was my angel," Caldwell said.

The mother of two boys, ages 9 and 13, Caldwell said Sylvia was the daughter she never had. A photograph of Caldwell and Sabath at Virginia Beach shows Sylvia stooped over her father's shoulder and Caldwell's youngest son on his knee, her oldest crouched beside him.

The photograph was on a desk at The Herald-Mail, where Caldwell works in the classified department.

Maryland State Police said the father and daughter died after another vehicle swerved into the Honda Accord that Sabath was driving. The driver of the other vehicle was trying to avoid a dark metallic blue Pontiac Sunfire that crossed the center line.

Police said the Pontiac Sunfire, which had Maryland license plates and appeared to be a late 1990s model, caused the crash, but police still were searching for the vehicle Thursday.

After the accident, questions remained for the people Sabath and his daughter left behind.

Sylvia was a model student, said Teresa Bachtell, the athletic director at Smithsburg High School, where the girl regularly made honor roll.

"She was just an outstanding person, an outstanding student, just one of those kids who would do the right thing, even when no one was watching," Bachtell said.

Sylvia talked about studying X-ray technology or nursing in college, Caldwell said.

A bright, motivated student, Sylvia would have succeeded at anything she tried, said Bachtell, who grew fond of the girl during an aerobics class last year.

"Peer pressure did not affect Sylvia," Bachtell said. "I mean she was just her own person ... one of those students teachers love to have in class. I hope she knew how much she meant to the other students here and how much they admired her."

As Caldwell talked, acquaintances cried in the background.

Nine-year-old Jared did not hesitate when his mother asked what he thought of Sylvia and Nick.

"Nick would have been the best stepfather probably on the face of the earth ... Sylvia would have been the best stepsister I could have had," Jared said.

Caldwell wondered aloud if the driver of the Pontiac Sunfire knew what the accident had done to her family. After the crash, Caldwell said, her ex-husband, who was driving on the same road, stopped to help.

Caldwell said she and Sabath planned to marry. He also had a 21-year-old daughter and a stepdaughter, she said.

When he presented Caldwell with a ring two days before Christmas, she said, Sabath told her he would wait until she was ready.

"I used to worry about the age difference, and he always said, 'I'll always be here for you. I'll never leave you. You never have to worry about that,'" Caldwell said.

Caldwell said she does not know how she and her boys will carry on with Nick and Sylvia. She ended the discussion with a plaintive request:

"Please put in there that he loved his family so much, and his girls meant the world to him, 'cause it's the truth," Caldwell said. "Just put in there that I will always love them."

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