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As accused hit-and-run driver pleads not guilty in court, victim William ‘Bill’ Wanczyk remembered as ‘everybody’s friend’

  • William “Bill” Wanczyk jokes with his longtime partner Elysse Link. Link, an actress, wore a prosthetic belly for a part in a play and surprised Wanczyk with it after the show. Wanczyk, 55, was struck and killed while waiting for a bus in Amherst in November 2016. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • William "Bill" Wanczyk celebrates with his longtime partner Elysse Link. "He was a natural ham," Link said. Wanczyk, 55, was struck and killed while waiting for a bus in Amherst in November 2016. —Courtesy Photo

  • In an undated photo William "Bill" Wanczyk poses with a birthday cake. Wanczyk, 55, was struck and killed while waiting for a bus in Amherst in November 2016.

  • William "Bill" Wanczyk in an undated photo. Wanczyk, 55, was struck and killed while waiting for a bus in Amherst in November 2016.

  • William “Bill” Wanczyk and his longtime partner Elysse Link. Submitted photo

  • William “Bill” Wanczyk loved children and was looking forward to having some of his own grandchildren, his brother-in-law David Liebenow said. SUBMITTED PHOTO



@ecutts_HG
Thursday, June 22, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — William “Bill” Wanczyk spent the last day of his life doing what his family and friends remember him for — helping out.

“I asked him to come and dog-sit,” said Amherst resident Elysse Link, Wanczyk’s longtime partner. “I came back, we went out to dinner, hung out. He decided to take the bus home and that was that night.”

“He spent his last day on Earth helping me,” she said. “He gave me enormous pleasure. It was so easy to hang out with him, it felt so safe and so wonderful — the humor, the kindness.”

Wanczyk was waiting at a bus shelter in front of 141 North Pleasant St. in Amherst, shortly after 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 6, 2016 when he was killed by a speeding green 2008 Ford F550 truck. The truck left the road, struck Wanczyk at the bus shelter and continued a short way before being abandoned. On Friday, Peter Sheremeta, 20, of Belchertown was arraigned in Hampshire Superior Court in connection with Wanczyk’s death.

Sheremeta pleaded not guilty to charges including motor vehicle homicide while operating under the influence of alcohol, manslaughter and manslaughter while operating under the influence of alcohol. He is being held on $100,000 cash bail.

“Walking by that bus stop every single day is very painful,” Link said. “You can replace a bus stop, but not a person.”

Wanczyk’s brother-in-law, David Liebenow, said he wouldn’t be surprised if Wanczyk went toward the truck instead of moving out of the way.

“He would try to prevent it,” Liebenow said. “Yeah, there’s Bill. Instead of moving out of the way, he went toward it to make sure no one else got hurt.”

For 14 years, Link and Wanczyk talked daily. The two traveled together, laughed together and had plans for the future.

“We did not start out on the right foot,” Link said with a laugh. “We hardly ever fought. We would tell people, we got our fight over first, and then we got along.”

An argument over shared laundry facilities, when Link and Wanczyk lived in apartments on Fruit Street in Northampton, led to a quick apology from both sides. An ice cream date followed and Link said the two just hit it off.

“I can’t describe it. We found out we had the same sense of humor. We were on the same wavelength,” she said. “A lot of laughter and joking around since the beginning. That laughter and that humor was wonderful for me.”

The oldest of three children, Wanczyk graduated from Northampton High School in 1980. A father of two, Wanczyk was looking forward to his son getting married, Liebenow said.

Wanczyk later earned an associate’s degree from Springfield Community Technical College, went on to serve as a special police officer in Northampton and later was a firefighter for Northampton before an injury forced him to retire.

“He’s a great guy,” Bob Wayne (formerly Wanczyk) said of his older brother. “He got along with everybody, was everybody’s friend.”

“I guess everybody kind of felt special around Bill because he gave you that time, a one-liner or his chair,” Wayne, of Florida, said. “He is going to be missed big time. We miss him a lot already.”

Wayne said he would talk to his brother weekly to catch up. The two talked for the last time the day he was killed.

Even though an injury ended his career as a firefighter, Link and Wayne said Wanczyk still had a passion for public safety and would often listen to emergency scanners.

“He still loved it and wanted to be a part of it,” Wayne said. “If he wasn’t cracking a joke, he wanted to help somebody.”

When he would hear calls come across the radio near where Link lives, she said he would call and warn her.

Wanczyk is also remembered for his sense of humor.

Link said one time while she was away, Wanczyk and his kids toilet-papered her apartment. She said it took a few hours to clean up the toilet paper that covered every surface except her stove and computer. Wayne compared his brother’s humor to Alan Alda’s character on the TV show “M*A*S*H.”

“He always had a one-liner to say to make everyone laugh,” Wayne said. “A lot of times it was good, sometimes it was bad, but you always laughed because it was coming from Bill.”

Link, who is legally blind, said the two trusted each other. Wanczyk helped her fulfill a longtime desire — driving a car.

“He got my disability,” she said. “He was not afraid of it.”

So in a rented car on a long driveway during a vacation in New Orleans, Link took the driver’s seat.

“I trusted him. I got behind the wheel; he had total control. He showed me how to put the key in, start the car,” she said. “I very gently drove down that driveway, didn’t hit a thing. Nobody else would have done that for me, but that is Bill. He trusted me enough and I trusted him enough.”

Liebenow said Wanczyk served in the National Guard and worked security at Hampshire College. After he was no longer able to be a firefighter, Liebenow said Wanczyk volunteered with the American Red Cross in Chicopee.

“The memories are there everyday,” Liebenow said. “… just being around Bill and the smile he had, the way he lit up a room when he walked in.”

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.