As are searching for the driver who on the side of a quiet Water Mill street on Monday night, the tragedy has evoked an eerily similar case that the Town of East Hampton handled in 2006.
On a weekday July evening six years ago, a Catholic priest was killed in a hit-and-run accident in Springs. The driver, Karen Fisher, a repeat drunken driving offender, fled to her home just a quarter-mile down the street and she was quickly found.
Msgr. William Costello, a 79-year-old retired priest from Garden City, was visiting his sister on Woodbine Drive, when he took an evening walk on the evening of July 18, 2006. Witnesses called police at 7:49 p.m., after hearing the accident and seeing a minivan drive-away from Costello's lifeless body.
Her blood alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit. Fisher pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter and is currently serving a four- to 12-year sentence.
Police identified the victim of Monday evening's hit-and-run as Sister Jacqueline Walsh, a pastoral associate at in Syosset, who was attending a retreat in the Water Mill area with fellow members of the Sisters of Mercy.
Police were called at about 8:30 p.m., when Walsh was found lying on the ground a few feet from the road near 383 Rose Hill Road in Water Mill. She was dead upon police arrival.
Just a half mile from the scene, detectives found a 2009 Volkswagen Touareg with front-end damage, but the driver was nowhere to be found.
Former Chief Todd Sarris said when he heard about the hit-and-run the first thing that came to mind was the monsignor's death in 2006. "That was a very, very difficult case and I admired the way my guys handled the case so quickly," he said.
Sarris, who retired in 2009, said what struck him was that the accident happened on residential, safe street. "Someone like that serves in that capacity that entire life, goes out for a walk, is minding their own business and being taken out like that makes it really hit home," he said. "There but for the grace of God go you and I, right?"
The Rev. Msgr. Donald Hanson, the pastor at in East Hampton, said that while he noted the irony in the similarity of the two deaths, he said clergy are no more protected from tragedy. "Everybody's life is precious whether exemplary or ordinary or not so good," he said.