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Pastors Killed by Drunk Driver

March 6, 1998

WILLOW GROVE, Pa. (AP) _ Don Saunders and Buddy Stride planned to be gone only a couple minutes.

Like most Friday nights, Feb. 20 was family time at the little stone house where the two Baptist ministers and inseparable best friends lived with their wives and Stride’s four children. On that drizzly night, it meant running out for chocolate doughnuts and a videotape or two, then sprawling in front of the TV with the kids.

After making sure Stride’s 2-year-old namesake, Buddy 3rd, was snug in his car seat, the men got into his 1988 Daihatsu and headed down Dallas Road toward the local grocery.

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Legally, Louis Serianni Jr. shouldn’t have been near an ignition key.

His license was first revoked in 1982 after the state labeled him a ``habitual offender.″ But Serianni, 39, a mechanic in Bucks County, kept driving. He’d forged an insurance card and racked up so many moving violations that his record runs 18 pages, authorities said. He wasn’t due to get his license restored until Aug. 31, 2019.

He danced around the system, said Montgomery County District Attorney Michael D. Marino. The database issues a new citation with each new violation but doesn’t tell an officer how many times a driver has been stopped or cited for driving with a supended license.

``The law says he’s given a citation, and he walks away,″ Marino said. ``He cannot be arrested right then and there.″

On Feb. 20, Serianni was driving again, this time steering his 1970 gold Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible in and out of traffic on busy four-lane Moreland Road, doing an estimated 60-70 mph in a 35 mph zone with his headlights off _ and a blood alcohol level more than twice the legal limit, prosecutors charge.

At 7 p.m., witnesses told police, the big Olds crested a hill and slammed broadside into a small white car turning left from Dallas Road.

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Lois Stride, feeding dinner to her three girls, wondered what was taking the guys so long. About 8 p.m., she called down to Dixie Saunders in the basement apartment, wondering if she could think of anything that might have delayed them.

She stuck her head down the stairs again about 8:30 _ just as the police arrived.

``The first thing they said was, `The little boy’s OK,‴ Mrs. Stride told a reporter in her living room. As for Don and Buddy, the police just kept saying the situation was ``very serious.″

``By that time,″ Mrs. Stride said, ``both men were dead.″

Donald Saunders and Harold Stride 2nd, born 18 days apart in June 1971, were pronounced dead at Abington Memorial Hospital within an hour of each other.

``It’s just perfectly appropriate,″ Mrs. Stride said. ``It seems like He put them together for a purpose, then took them for another.″

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The two men grew close as 16-year-old high school juniors in their hometown of Lincoln, Neb. Buddy loved languages, especially French. Don loved basketball and anything having to do with the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Both loved God and found a bond in their unwavering faith, the ``most important foundation″ any relationship can be built upon, Mrs. Stride said.

They separated at graduation, Buddy going off to bible college in California, Don attending Nebraska. They married within a year of each other. Don taught for a year in California then joined his best friend at the seminary. He and Dixie lived two apartments down from Buddy and Lois.

When Buddy decided to head East to pursue a doctorate at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, Pa., Don said he was going, too.

The two families arrived in Pennsylvania last summer, and Buddy set about finding a congregation he might lead. He preached at Bethany Baptist Church in Philadelphia and was immediately embraced. He made it clear he came with a partner.

``The guys’ dream was always to preach together. Don ... always said he could see himself as an associate pastor (to Buddy),″ Mrs. Stride said.

``Don had the day-to-day enthusiasm that would keep them going. Buddy was the one who pulled for the long term _ Buddy had the goals and the vision and the drive. He lived (life) so intently that it wasn’t hard for him to motivate us to go along with him. ...

``They usually managed not to be down at the same time. When they were, it was disastrous. But for the most part, when one was down the other was up.″

On the day they were killed, they were both up. They’d received word they were to be formally installed as Bethany’s pastor and assistant pastor.

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At the crash scene, Serianni told police he’d had ``a couple of beers.″ His blood alcohol test at Abington Memorial registered .22, the affidavit said. That’s the equivalent of downing some 10 drinks in an hour, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

On Tuesday, Serianni pleaded not guilty to 21 charges, including drunken driving, driving with a revoked license and two counts of vehicular homicide. He was jailed on $50,000 bond and faces a preliminary hearing March 17.

No one answered the door at Serianni’s home Thursday, and his attorney, Lawrence S. Krasner, did not return messages. After Tuesday’s appearance, however, Krasner offered that Serianni had requested a moment of silence for the deceased and their families.

Hearing of Serianni’s request, Mrs. Stride showed the hint of a smile. Left a widow at 28 with four children _ Eshte, 4; Bijou, 3; Buddy, 2; and the baby, L’Abri, 1 _she might be forgiven for ridiculing his sentiment.

But she can’t even imagine feeling anger.

``I don’t know all the whys, but I do trust in God,″ she said. ``It seems odd, because they were doing such a good job. But it’s just one of those unanswerables _ God thinks beyond us.″

And if anyone had to die, she’s comforted it was Buddy and Don, whose eternal lives she’s certain of.

``I can’t speak to Mr. Serianni’s soul,″ she said.

``The guys would say that they were glad he’s still here for a second chance.″

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