Tragedy claims 16-year-old 'free spirit'


Erika S. Hall "just didn't know how to sit still," says her father, the Rev. Nathan R. Hall.

He and her mother, Eileen M. Hall, watched in amazement as she tackled one challenge after another in her 16 years.

There were dance classes at En' L'Air School of Dance.

"And next thing you know she was teaching the little 5-year-olds— they loved her," Mr. Hall said.

There was music, much of it self taught. "She would teach herself how to play musical instruments — guitar, ukelele, saxophone, keyboards — she'd pick them up by watching YouTube lessons."

She made the varsity field hockey team as a freshman. "She was competitive but most of all she savored the camaraderie with her teammates."

"Summers there was the beach — Horseneck, Cherry & Webb, "Anyplace. She loved the freedom of the ocean."

And most of all "she loved being with people, with her friends and sisters and brothers … She had this ability to see value in people that others maybe didn't see." Accepting, loving, supportive, compassionate were words her family often heard about their daughter from the many who have shared memories. "She had a soft heart."

Erika, a Westport High School sophomore, was killed and three other Westport High School students were hurt, one seriously, in a single car crash late Saturday night in the vicinity of 1634 Drift Road in Westport.

Westport Police say that the car, a 1997 Toyota Camry, was southbound on Drift Road  (just under a mile from Westport Point) when it left the roadway at 11:24 p.m. and struck a telephone pole. The car then flipped over and came to rest in the opposite (northbound) side of the road.

The two back seat passengers, neither of whom was wearing a seat belt, were ejected from the car. One, Ms. Hall was pronounced dead at the scene. The other, an 18-year-old boy, was listed in stable condition in the intensive care unit at Rhode Island Hospital on Sunday.

The driver, a 16-year-old boy, and the the 18-year-old front seat male passenger, both of whom were wearing seat belts, were treated and released at local hospitals with minor injuries. Neither police nor the District Attorney's office have released any of their names.

Erika's family pointed to a line in her obituary that perhaps summed her up best.

"She possessed a soul so wild, free and exploding with love that this world could not contain her."

That, said her father, "is what we hold on to. She threw herself into everything. She wanted to experience it all, get all she could out of every moment of life."

A good student, Erika especially enjoyed art and music classes — the family house is full of paintings, sculptures and other creations brought home over the years.

The Hall household is full in other ways — Erika and her five siblings, recently an Italian exchange student, and pets that include rabbits, a dog, birds, fish … "She, they all, love nature, pets — it's a busy place."

Mr. Hall said that he and his wife often said they couldn't imagine where life might take Erika. "We laughed about that. She had so many passions."

They did know that she intended to spend her junior year abroad in Italy. Erika and Alessia Carrara, the exchange student from Bergamo, Italy, who had had stayed with the Halls — in Erika's room — while in Westport, had become close friends. They'd come up with a plan for Erika to stay with Alessia's family next year and attend school there.

"That's Erika — she was fearless, not concerned at all about boundaries, trying new things."

Mr. Hall, who serves as pastor of Pacific Union Congregational Church in Westport, said Erika's siblings are holding up remarkably well, thanks in part to support from church and community.

They've talked about the idea that "you can't put God in a box and say you have Him all figured out … We do know that we are praying to a God who lost a dear child too." And they have faith she is now in a place free of pain and sadness.

The Halls said they are "amazed by the quality of the people in our community," and not just their church community.

A steady stream of classmates have stopped by the house — a few have even stayed over. They were touched to watch several of Erika's school friends try to help fill the role of their friend, helping her younger sisters with their music.

"Erika lived to experience every ounce of joy and wonder that this world had to offer," wrote  her family in her obituary.

The crash and its cause remain under investigation by Westport Police, Massachusetts State Police and the District Attorney's office, and no charges have been filed.

Counselors were made available at Westport High School Monday to assist students with dealing with the tragedy,

"They and the school did a wonderful job in a very difficult situation," said Detective Antonio Cestodio, whose own daughter was a friend of Erika's and her siblings. "It's a small town."

Erika's funeral will be Saturday, May 3, at 10 a.m. at the Dartmouth Bible Church, 52 Morton Ave., Dartmouth, MA 02747.

Calling hours will be Friday, May 2, from 2:30-7:30 p.m. at the Lighthouse Assembly of God, 522 American Legion Highway, Westport, MA 02790.

Interment will be private and held at the convenience of the family.



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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.