Family and friends are mourning the loss of a school bus driver killed in an East Hartford crash.
Verlean Douglas was a mother and grandmother who family says always helped others. On Tuesday, hundreds gathered for a vigil to remember her life and her spirit.
"For my mom to be gone, it hurts. It hurts so much. It's unreal," said Douglas' daughter Jozelyn Ritchens.
It was just this past Sunday that Ritchens spoke to her mom on the phone. Douglas wanted to know her daughter was OK and told her she loved her.
Two days later, Douglas' family and hundreds of others are grieving the loss of a mother of three and a grandmother of three. The 67-year-old drove a bus for four decades. She started her career working for CT Transit and about 20 years in, became a school bus driver. Her family says she loved every moment.
"Her job literally killed her, and that's what makes it tough. She died doing something that she loved," said daughter Leslie Douglas.
Leslie says on Monday morning she drove by the crash and saw a bus but thought that it couldn't be her mom. She says a phone call later that day gave her the terrible news.
State police say a four-vehicle crash involved tractor-trailers and a school bus that didn't have any children on board. Investigators say a tractor-trailer attempted to brake but couldn't stop in time and crashed into the back of the bus. The school bus then collided into the back of another tractor-trailer which collided into the back of a third tractor-trailer. The vehicle that started the chain reaction jack-knifed and caught fire which then spread to the school bus and the two other vehicles. Douglas and another driver were killed.
"It's so surreal that she's gone and she's never coming home," said Leslie.
On Tuesday family and friends came out to the East Hartford bus lot and grieved next to spot 633. It's the place where Douglas' bus should be. Mourners placed flowers, lit candles, and wrote messages of love.
"I want her to be remembered as a loving person," said Nahzyr Hughes, Douglas' grandson.
"I want my mom to be remembered as a loving, nice, caring person. A great cook, loved to drink, loved to dance, loved to have fun, loved Earth Wind & Fire, and loved her family," said Leslie.
Seeing the large crowd gathered in East Hartford on Tuesday left loved ones feeling overwhelmed. They say it shows Verlean Douglas meant so much to so many.
"I just can't believe how many people loved her. They really loved her," said Ritchens.
A pasta fundraiser is being held on Saturday from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the South Windsor Community Center on Nevers Road. It's $5 for children 10 and under and $10 for adults. The money will go to the family to help with funeral arrangements.