Twenty years later, Blanchard mystery still unsolved
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
On June 7, 1994, Donna Blanchard walked to her local deli in Bay Ridge to buy some groceries. She brought her four-year-old daughter Michele with her. They never made it home.
After Donna and her little girl left the store and were crossing the street at Fort Hamilton Parkway and 92nd Street, they were struck and killed by a motorist driving a white box truck. The driver never stopped.
The killer driver was never caught. “The person who ripped the air out of our lungs is still out there somewhere,” Crissy McLeer, Blanchard’s daughter, told the Brooklyn Eagle on the 20th anniversary of the tragedy. Crissy was 16 when her mother and sister were killed.
Donna was a 43-year-old mother of five children when she was struck down by the reckless driver.
On Saturday, Crissy and her surviving siblings – brothers Michael, Andrew and Adam – marked the sad anniversary of the worst day of their lives by gathering at the corner where the incident took place to hold a candlelight vigil in memory of their mother and baby sister and to unveil a mural that Michael, an artist, painted on a parking lot wall near the intersection.
Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) helped the family spread the word in the neighborhood about the candlelight vigil and urged Bay Ridge residents to attend.
The mural, which towers over the scene, offers a powerful image of the two ill-fated victims.
“We’re hoping that the mural can turn this place into a place of remembrance. We don’t want this to be just a place of tragedy for us,” Michael, 44, told the Eagle as he was putting the finishing touches on his mural.
All of the siblings still live near the scene and have to pass that corner every day.
The family is also urging the community to never forget Donna and Michele. A few years ago, the city officially renamed the intersection of Fort Hamilton Parkway and 92nd Street, “Donna and Michele Blanchard Plaza.”
“It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since that awful day,” McLeer family friend Justin Brannan told the Eagle. “How someone could live with this on their conscience for this long is just beyond me. How could someone sleep at night knowing they killed a mother and her baby girl? How do you look at yourself in the mirror each morning? It’s just beyond belief,” said Brannan, who is the communications director for Gentile.
The mural, which Michael created using an old family photo of Donna and Michele, depicts the smiling faces of the mother and daughter. The two, who are painted in black and white, are surrounded by red roses.
The Blanchard case, which generated citywide headlines back in 1994, has slowly receded from memory and has become a cold case.
In an article published three years ago, The New York Times reported that there were witnesses to the crime, but that residents who saw the truck hit the Blanchards all ran over to help the victims and didn’t look up to get the truck’s license plate.
“We never give up hope,” Crissy said. “It’s still possible that the person who did this will grow a conscience and turn themselves in, or tell somebody what they did.”
If Donna Blanchard had lived, she would have been the grandmother of 10. She also would have seen her son Michael become a successful artist whose work is featured in art galleries all over the country. She likely would have been proud of her son Andrew, who was six when she was killed and is now a 26-year-old New York City firefighter. Andrew is also a U.S. Navy veteran.
Another son, Adam, was 23 when Donna and Michele died.
Michael credits his mother with his career as an artist. “She always taught us to dream big,” he said.
“She was a cool mother,” Crissy said. “She took my brothers to their first Kiss concert. She loved Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.”
Donna was tremendously encouraging, Crissy said. “She was always very positive. The greatest love of her life was her children.”
And Michele was Andrew’s best friend. “She looked up to him. She was always by his side,” Crissy recalled.
Crissy, who was a teenager in 1994, said the hit-run driver deprived her and her brothers of a lot of wonderful years with their mother and sister. Donna’s last words to Crissy that day were “I love you Brat.” That was her playful nickname for her daughter.
Looking back at the terrible events of June 7, 1994, is difficult, Crissy said. “Sometimes it seems like it happened yesterday and sometimes it feels like it happened in a different life,” she said.
Michael said the family still can’t get over the fact that the driver never stopped. “I can understand that accidents happen. You can forgive someone for that. But to not stop? You can’t forgive that,” he said.
***Updated to include comments from Justin Brannan***