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Thursday, October 30, 2014

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Sad birthday: Woman who died in mysterious fall from RR bridge remembered lovingly

Updated 4:55 pm, Thursday, March 27, 2014

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  • Jonathan Prager and the late Annette White visited Stirling Castle during a trip they took to Scotland last year. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News

    Jonathan Prager and the late Annette White visited Stirling Castle during a trip they took to Scotland last year.

    Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Annette White would have turned 46 on Monday. But that wasn't to be. In December, White, the mother of three grown children, was killed by a Metro-North train that struck her from behind as she walked across a railroad bridge spanning the Saugatuck River.

The impact caused White to tumble into the icy Saugatuck River around 6:40 p.m. Dec. 26. Her body was found floating near the mouth of the river about 9:15 a.m. the next morning by a duck hunter in a kayak. White died of blunt impact injuries, according to an autopsy.

Three months after the accident, questions about her death remain, notably how and why White ended up on the railroad trestle bridge that night. That has left loved ones confused, trying to piece together what happened. So far, there have been no closure.

Police do not suspect suicide or foul play in White's death, police Capt. Vincent Penna said last week. "Our investigation of this case is closed," he added.

White was last seen alive at the Owenoke Park home where she had been living since July with her boyfriend, Jonathan Prager.

Prager and White met in person last May 25 at an inn in Maine where she was living at the time. They had been talking with each other on the phone for a couple of months prior to that after establishing contact through an online dating service.

"I was nervous and excited about meeting Annette," Prager said in an interview this week with the Westport News, his first public comments on White's death.

"How would I react to her," he asked. "What would she think of me?"

He said when he first laid eyes on her, he felt he had always known her. "I gave her a hug, which she deeply returned," he said.

"She was stunning, sweetly gorgeous, tender and vulnerable," Prager said. "I wanted to hold her close, to bring her into my heart," he added. "There was never a moment of discomfort or uneasiness between us."

They went to dinner where the food was "abysmal, inedible, but it didn't matter. We were right next to each other, instantly connected."

"She felt I was the most loving person she had ever known," he said. "I know she was the most loving person that I have ever known. She is with me now in even a more profound way than she was when she was at my side."

"She is my love, my partner, my soul mate. She is my Beloved," he said.

Prager said White's death is "at once deeply devastating and profoundly painful, but at the same time is guiding a spiritually transformative journey in me, and in us, that has and is continuing to bring me closer to love, to God and to surrendering to faith and trust."

Prager, a comedian, singer and songwriter, said a few days before White died he wrote a new song, "Support on Which to Build."

"It was dedicated to Annette," he said.

"It is her quiet and powerful devotion, her deep personal faith, her steadfast and unwavering belief in me, and in all the people that she loved, that led me to the place where I could write it," he said. "When I sang it to her, tears rolled down her cheeks. Then she said these words, `That's a very trusting song. I was wondering when you'd get here.' That implied that she'd been there all along."

The song, one of several Prager sang at White's funeral in Maine, ends: "I embrace humility. Live with flexibility. And I watch as my world. Expands.

"There's always possibility. No matter what I see. I'm cradled in God's hands.

"And he understands."

On her Facebook page, White wrote this about Prager: "I am thankful for the caring, support, wisdom and love this man so freely shares with me! You inspire me Jonathan Prager!"

Prager said White taught psychology in Iowa for more than a decade. "But she didn't just teach," he said. "She approached every student with a deep sense of reverence, valuing and commitment."

Prager said White loved to go to church and felt "nurtured and nourished there." She was also a "deeply devoted mother; the kind who took her role as the definition of who she was."

On Monday to mark White's birthday, Prager said two of her children, Nolan and Bailey Jankiewicz, went together to the banks of the river that flows through the town where they attend college and tossed the petals of a single rose into the water "in sacred memory" of their mother.

"At the same time, I did the very same thing in front of my house here in Westport," he said.

Bailey Jankiewicz, White's middle child, on Monday also posted remembrances of her mother on Facebook, including a picture of the two of them. "This is the last picture taken together," she said. "I don't think, I ever posted this one."

In a Facebook message to the Westport News, Jankiewicz said she's still uncertain about what happened to her mother the night she died.

"I just know what I've been told and what I've learned," she said. "I learned that the bridge that she was walking across was very narrow and could only fit a train. I also learned that it was dark outside that night, and that the train was going somewhere between 40 to 50 miles per hour."

But, she added, "I can tell you what I do know for absolute certainty." And that is that her mother loved to "explore new places -- the more adventurous the better."

"My best guess is that she was going for one of her walks, and she decided to explore a new area," she said.

"She most likely thought that the bridge would be `cool' or fun to walk across," Jankiewicz added. "And I bet she enjoyed the dangerous aspect of it."