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Haverford YMCA bustling after ‘blood-curdling screams’ accompanied toddler’s death

From her home at the edge of the lot, one woman heard the wails Saturday afternoon as she was gardening.

A small memorial rests on a bench outside of the Haverford Area YMCA, where a 2-year-old child was killed in the parking lot Saturday.
A small memorial rests on a bench outside of the Haverford Area YMCA, where a 2-year-old child was killed in the parking lot Saturday.Read moreStephanie Farr / staff

With a bouquet of canary-yellow chrysanthemums tucked under one arm, Mary Strenchock grabbed the hand of a stranger in the Haverford Area YMCA parking lot Sunday morning and began to pray in front of an occupied parking space.

It was here in this parking spot, she said, where the little girl lost her life.

From her home at the edge of the lot, Strenchock heard the wails Saturday afternoon as she was gardening.

"There was screaming all over," she said.

Strenchock, 52, wondered — as tears streamed down her face — whether the person who parked there Sunday morning knew what had happened in that small spot Saturday night.

How one life ended and others were irrevocably changed, all in a tiny corner of the world that, less than 24 hours later, was now occupied by a Mazda hatchback.

Sunday morning, the parking lot of the Haverford Area YMCA on Eagle Road where a 2-year-old girl was struck and killed about 12:30 p.m. Saturday, was once again bustling. By 9 a.m., every spot in the sprawling lot was full. Drivers followed people leaving the facility to their cars, in hopes of getting a space.

According to police, the girl, who has not been identified, and her mother had just left the YMCA when the child wandered away and sat down in an open parking space. A motorist, who has also not been identified, pulled into the space, hitting the girl.

Haverford Township Police Chief John Viola said the driver, who is in his 50s, was planning to pull through the first spot into an open second spot just ahead when he hit the girl, who was seated off to the right in the first parking space.

The driver, who remained on the scene and is cooperating with authorities, never even saw the child.

"He's very distraught, as you can imagine," Viola said. "It's a very tragic accident."

Strenchock didn't see the girl, either, but she heard the screams. And one scream, she said, rang out above them all: the mother's.

"I heard her blood-curdling screams," she said. "The mother and the driver, they were just devastated-looking."

Strenchock said people rushed to the car and police and medics arrived on the scene quickly.

The 27-month-old girl was taken to Lankenau Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead, according to police.

No charges have been filed against the driver, who is a Haverford Township resident, police said. The motorist, who isn't suspected of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, submitted to a voluntary blood test, the results of which are pending, Viola said.

The YMCA, which opened in 2013, was built on the site of the old Swell bubble gum factory. It has 27,000 members and up to 2,000 people visit each day, which has led to gripes about a shortage of parking spots, said Shaun Elliott, CEO of the Philadelphia Freedom Valley YMCA.

On Facebook, current and former members of the YMCA said the facility's parking lot is often busy.

Viola said during busy times the YMCA will sometimes have staff direct traffic in the parking lot. Although the police department hasn't gotten any complaints about the parking lot itself, it has fielded complaints about traffic on Eagle Road, which is generally heavy.

Following the accident, the YMCA closed early Saturday but reopened as scheduled at 7 a.m. Sunday.

The only remaining sign of the accident was a small memorial of stuffed animals and flowers on a bench just outside the facility's front door, where Strenchock laid the yellow chrysanthemums she brought.

"I just wanted to do something," she said.

In March 2017, in the same parking lot, a woman gave birth to a healthy baby girl when traffic prevented her and her husband from reaching the hospital. At the time, people marveled that they were able to find a parking space when they pulled into the lot.

Staff writer David Gambacorta contributed to this article.