Close to 2,000 people in Hyde Park came to a wake to show their support for the Coppola family. Their 16-year-old son Claudio, died in a car accident. YNN's John Wagner spoke with friends and family.
HYDE PARK, N.Y. -- "Claudio's in a better place and he's watching over all us and he'll take care of all of us," said Dutchess County Undersheriff Kirk Imperati, a friend of Claudio Coppola and his large family.
As tragedy strikes the well-respected Coppola family, thousands of Hyde Park residents gather to support their own.
I think it's a great showing by the community to help each other out and help the Coppola's get through this, because everyone's here for them and they know that," said Hyde Park resident Vincent Oliva.
"The Coppolas are one of the pillars of the community, they're great people, they've done so much for Regina Coeli, so much for the town," said Jim O'Keefe, a friend of the Coppola family.
"This is not a town of Hyde Park, this is the family of Hyde Park," said Luigi Coppola, Claudio's father. "Our entire family came out for Claudio."
Claudio, a junior at FDR high school, died Friday night in a car accident. Classmates say he was a leader and a counselor to friends with an engaging personality and smile.
"He was a fun loving kid and everybody basically loved him," said Kyle Massey, one of Claudio's lacrosse teammates.
"I'm not a huge religious person, but I know there's somewhere better that he is," said Luke Ferrara, another friend and classmate of Claudio's.
Claudio often worked with his family here at their restaurant and he helped a number of friends get their first jobs. He was known for his Catholic faith, his love of sports and the guitar--planning to study music in college.
"You know that expression, 'live, laugh, love?' That was Claudio Coppola," said Imperati. "He lived life to the fullest, always a smile on his face, always laughing."
"He was hysterical, he was beautiful on the inside and out," said Jennifer LaPorte, a close friend of the Coppola's. "He was a good person. He was kind. He was generous. He was very involved with church."
The Coppola family is setting up a foundation called "Claudio Cares" to offer scholarships and help to those in need. Their first event will be on his birthday, December 17th, to fill a semi-truck to the brim with food. The Coppola Restaurant will serve as the donation center: 4167 Albany Post Road, Hyde Park, NY 12538.
"Claudio's going to be remembered for his selflessness, he took care of everybody," said Luigi Coppola.
"This is a huge example of the amount of lives that he's touched," said LaPorte. "He will be sorely missed, but ever remembered."
Memorial donations in Claudio's name may be made to "Autism Speaks." Visit www.autismspeaks.com for more information.