Grief counselors help students with teacher's death

57-year-old woman died, daughter in critical condition after being hit by car

Esther and Orly Ohayon
Esther and Orly Ohayon

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A community is grieving for a 57-year-old mother and teacher and praying for her 16-year-old daughter, who remains hospitalized after the two were hit by a car crossing San Jose Boulevard at Haley Road on Friday night.

On Monday, grief counselors were on hand at Galinsky Academy, where Esther Ohayon worked.

"There is a seat in that class that is empty," Rabbi Yaakov Fisch said Monday. "We will need to fill it, but we could never fill it in the way that Miss Esther filled it."

Ohayon and her daughter (pictured, below) were trying to cross the street at San Jose and Haley to attend Yom Kippur services at the Etz Chaim Synagogue when they were hit by a car.

"People were shocked. We were all numb from the news, we didn't even know how to react," Fisch said.

Fisch says the intersection where Ohoyan and her daughter were hit has concerned him for years. He notes that on the day of Sabbath, orthodox Jews are advised not to use electricity, so it's possible that Ohayon did not push the button at the crosswalk.

Officers are still trying to determine if the driver, Michael Fortunato, had a red or green light when he went through the intersection, but they have cited him for driving with an expired license.

Ohayon's 16-year-old daughter, Orly, a junior at Wolfson High School, remains in critical but stable condition at UF Health in Jacksonville.

"In the past they've always been very pleasant and very sweet," said Julie Sears, a family friend. "Ly, I knew since she was playing basketball when she was 8. I know she's 16 now, so she wouldn't want to be called a little girl. But very sweet, young woman."

As teachers, children and parents returned to Galinsky Academy on Monday morning, the rabbi met with faculty to discuss comforting and communicating with children.

Kriss said it will be tough to explain to the kids at the school what happened, but they are going to tell them what happened.

"We'll tell them the truth. There will be no stories that Esther's gone away. We'll talk about God and we'll talk about heaven," Kriss said.

The community is in shock but is coming together, especially to stay strong for Ohayon's daughter.

"To overcome the tragedy of her mother will be a day-by-day event," Kriss said. "You will never get over this tragedy. She will be in our hearts and her memory will be a blessing forever. We will remember Esther by recounting tales of how lovely she was and how she worked with the children. That will carry through to her daughter. Her daughter will grow up just as she was."

Despite the pain of losing Ohayon, Frisch said her daughter Orly is giving them strength.

"When we see her smiling, and optimistic about her future, that's giving everyone else around her, and giving the entire community, a major lift at this time," Fisch said.

Kriss wants to get the community together to find ways to make crossing the street safer and to try to keep another pedestrian crash from happening.

"The priority now that we get through the grieving process is to get together with congregations in the city, especially Etz Chaim next door to the Jacksonville Jewish Center, and see if we can work through a unified plan to meet with city officials and state officials to see how we can improve the traffic and pedestrian traffic on that road," Kriss said.