Remembering the ‘magnetic’ lives lost in East Marion crash: Services set for victims
A renowned pulmonologist, recently retired, embracing a lifelong passion for art collection on the North Fork. His wife, a beloved, veteran trauma surgeon, just a year or so away from her own retirement. An “absolutely magnetic” Greenport designer, finally settled with his wife on the North Fork after years of travel, working together on a dream renovation of an 1830 house they called “The Saltbox.”
Three of the four fatalities in last Friday’s deadly car crash in East Marion were North Fork residents whose extraordinary lives are coming into clearer focus nearly a week after a late night collision that drew three fire departments to the scene and remains under state investigation.
Heath Miller, 47, of Greenport and his friend, William Price, 55, of Wilton, Connecticut were traveling west on Route 25 in a 2023 Tesla, while Dr. Peter Smith, 80 and his wife, Dr. Patricia O’Neill, 66, were heading east in a 2020 Ford Explorer when the crash took place around 11:30 p.m. according to police.
Friends of Dr. Smith and Dr. O’Neill said the long-married couple split their time between Brooklyn Heights and a home on Main Road in Orient, where they’d lived for about two decades. They were headed to Orient for the weekend when the crash occurred.
“This was their routine,” said a Brooklyn Heights neighbor, who asked not to be identified. “They would leave Brooklyn late Friday night, stop halfway and have dinner, and then drive to Orient. They were five minutes from their home when this crash occurred.”
Mr. Miller’s wife, Sarah-Mai Miller, told The Suffolk Times in an email that her husband “was absolutely magnetic.”
“You couldn’t know him without loving him. He was full of energy and inspiration, and he made everyone feel like they mattered, like they were the most important person at that moment. He was a visionary and a designer. He always knew how to make things beautiful.”
Ms. Miller said that they’d been married for 15 years.
“During that time, we’ve primarily lived in New York City, but also Omaha, Chicago, [the Hudson Valley], and … Greenport,” she said.
“We moved to the North Fork in 2021,” she said. “We’d been visiting since 2013 and we fell in love with the entire area. Heath adored the water and once we found our amazing home in Greenport, it just all fell into place. We’ve been working on ‘The Saltbox’, our home, over the past couple years and it’s become our sanctuary.
“Rufus (our dog) and I will miss him forever,” she concluded.
Dr. Smith was a recently retired pulmonologist long associated with the now-closed Long Island Community Hospital in Brooklyn, and Dr. O’Neill was a trauma surgeon with Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center in Brooklyn — where colleagues said she gave her final lecture the night before the accident.
“Being doctors was not a profession for them,” said close friend Debra Greco. “It was a calling. They cared very deeply about their patients.” Greco’s husband, Joseph, grew up in New York City with Dr. Smith, who served as best man at the Greco’s wedding.
After graduating from SUNY Downstate Medical Center (now SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University), Dr. O’Neill spent a year doing a trauma residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, according to Dr. F. Charles Brunicardi, who worked closely with Dr. O’Neill in medical school and currently serves as dean of Downstate Health Science University.
“We worked 120 hours a week and every other night we were up all night” during medical school, he said. “She was an outstanding resident — always so sweet and so nice to everybody.”
After her residency, Dr. O’Neill worked as a trauma surgeon at Brooklyn’s Kings County Hospital Center, where she ran the residency program, a spokesperson said.
From there, Dr. O’Neill moved to Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center, where she was the head of the trauma division, according to a hospital spokesperson.
“Patricia was a very gentle woman,” said Ms. Greco. “You’d never believe … that she’s a trauma surgeon, up to her elbows in gunshot victims and car accidents, so this is even more tragic when you think about it.”
Dr. Brunicardi said that Dr. O’Neill gave her last lecture — on hypothermia — at Brookdale last Thursday night.
“I heard her lecture was excellent,” Dr. Brunicardi said. “What a great doctor, an outstanding doctor, and what a loss.”
Dr. Smith also graduated from SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, friends and colleagues said, and later returned to teach there.
“Not only did he care for so many patients, but he also trained and educated a whole generation of pulmonologists,” the couple’s Brooklyn Heights neighbor said.
Ms. Greco said that while Dr. Smith had retired shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. O’Neill was planning to retire within the next year or so.
In retirement, Dr. Smith was very active in community affairs, both in Brooklyn Heights and in Orient, where he served as a docent for the Oysterponds Historical Society (OHS).
“Though they were both accomplished and greatly respected medical doctors, they are most remembered by OHS as stalwart members of the Orient community,” the society said in a statement. “For many years Peter and Patricia were avid and involved supporters of Oysterponds Historical Society with Peter, in particular, devoting much time and energy to serving as a docent every summer at Village House. He greeted visitors, neighbors, and friends alike with great warmth and enthusiasm, as well as an abundance of good humor.”
Dr. Smith was also an avid art collector, Ms. Greco said, citing his passion for “Renaissance paintings and sculpture.
“He was a very talented, artistic person.”
“They were great friends,” the couple’s Brooklyn neighbor said. “They both had unbelievably great senses of humor.”
Visiting hours for Dr. O’Neill and Dr. Smith will be held today (Thursday, Feb. 23) from 1 to 4 and 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at DeFriest-Grattan Funeral Home in Mattituck.
A funeral Mass has been scheduled for Friday at 11:30 a.m. at Our Lady of Good Counsel R.C. Church in Mattituck, followed by interment at Orient Central Cemetery.
Mr. Miller’s family in York, Pennsylvania will hold a memorial service on Sunday, March 5, at Wyndham Garden, located at 2000 Loucks Road in York, Penn., from noon to 4 p.m.
In an email discussing arrangements, Ms. Miller said “a rager, hosted by his wife, will follow in NYC later this spring.”
Neighbor Ian Wile, founder of Little Creek Oyster Farm & Market, posted a heartfelt tribute to Mr. Miller on social media this week.
“Heath Miller … was a steady face around here,” he wrote. “I enjoyed so many real and true conversations with him at every turn. When we flooded, I found him down at the shop before I even got there, seeing if we needed anything.
“The longer we do this, we know that people, their lives and stories, commingle with our own. For all the joy in being there for life’s greatest moments, it is simply devastating to bear witness to the worst of it.”
The post concluded “Thank you Heath for your time with us.”
Ms. Miller said that her husband and victim William Price had been close for decades.
“He was an amazing father and husband and the most loyal friend,” she said of Mr. Price. “Heath and Will’s decades-long friendship — and knowing they were together — is a small ounce of comfort in this unimaginable time.”