Family recalls boy with big heart, Sean Hornby-Finch, killed in Westhampton crash on his 20th birthday

Last modified: Tuesday, May 05, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — On the day they were meant to celebrate his 20th birthday Sunday, the family of Sean Hornby-Finch gathered at a Fort Hill Terrace home accepting condolences and planning his funeral.

Hornby-Finch was killed early in the morning on his birthday after he lost control of the car he was driving on Route 66 in Westhampton and crashed into the woods According to police, he was navigating a curve when he went off the south side of the road, crashing through trees and coming to rest 75 feet from the edge of the road about a mile from Outlook Farm.

He was alone in the car, on his way to the Westhampton home he lived in with his mother, Adrienne Hornby. On Sunday, Hornby, his other mother, Leah Finch, and members of their extended and blended family were at Finch’s 32 Fort Hill Terrace home, where they received visits from friends and Rabbi Justin David of Congregation B’nai Israel and Rabbi Raquel S. (Riqi) Kosovske of the Beit Ahavah reform synagogue.

Through tears, friends and family talked about Hornby-Finch, a full-time student at Holyoke Community College who planned to attend the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he had just gotten a part-time job in the dining commons.

“What do you do when your worst fear comes true? This is it,” said Leah Finch, surrounded by friends gathered to support the family. “He had the biggest heart of anyone I ever knew.”

When it was too difficult to talk any longer, she asked her partner, Christine Young, and sister, Carrie Goldstein, to talk with a Gazette reporter.

There was to be a family birthday party Sunday night for Sean at Goldstein’s home in Leeds, with her husband and their three children.

The family said Hornby-Finch seemed to be just getting his footing and figuring out what he wanted to do with his life two years after graduating from Northampton High School. He had considered pursuing a trade, said Goldstein, then decided on a different path.

“He started with electrical, but then decided he wanted to have a desk job, he wanted to go into business,” she said. He planned to study finance at UMass, she said.

“He was an entrepreneur,” added Young.

He was quick to find work mowing neighbors’ lawns or shoveling driveways, they said.

Goldstein said when he was young, he was fascinated by the natural world and especially bugs. He had a special T-shirt that had a picture of a cockroach on it, a shirt he gave to his cousins, Goldstein’s children.

“He made me hold onto it so I could give it back to him,” she said, the tears falling. “I want to give him his bug shirt back.”

Two summers ago, Hornby-Finch had a life-altering experience. He volunteered for eight weeks in Alabama for a program of the American Jewish Society for Service. This instilled in him, Young said, a sense of justice and a desire to fight discrimination in all forms.

Hornby-Finch moved with his family to the Pioneer Valley from San Francisco 13 years ago. He attended Lander-Grinspoon Academy and Westhampton Elementary, and later, Hampshire Regional High School, Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School and NHS, where he graduated in 2013.

Young said Hornby-Finch loved his large, extended family deeply — his two siblings, Molly Hornby-Finch, 15, and Christopher Hornby-Finch, 22, and Christine Young’s three children, Madison Young, 17, and Zachary and Reed Young, both 15, as well has his cousins and grandfather, Albert Finch, who moved from Florida to Easthampton to be near his daughters and grandchildren.

“He was a really great family member,” said Christine Young. “He showed up at every family holiday.”

Goldstein said he was particularly close to his grandfather.

“He was a devoted grandson who would go help with chores around the yard, whatever his grandfather needed,” she said.

He was known in the family for writing heartfelt cards to family members for their birthdays, in pencil and in cursive, which he would always sign “Sean Finch.”

For the past two years, he had a steady girlfriend. “He was lucky to have that in his brief life,” said Goldstein. “He got to experience love.”

A family friend, Deborah Koch, described how she met Leah Finch 10 years ago, introduced by Sean, when he was about 10. She said she was outside the Westhampton Library looking at a book she’d just checked out for her book group, when a tow-headed Sean put his hands into a water fountain, and then walked over with his hands cupped open to show her a butterfly he’d just rescued.

“He wanted to show somebody, and I was sitting there,” said Koch. The butterfly flew off and the two chatted a bit, she said. He asked her about the book she was reading, which she told him was for a book group she was in. “He said my mother needs a book group,” she recalled.

When Finch came walking out of the library, Koch told her, ‘I understand you need a book group.’

Finch joined the group, and the two have been friends ever since.

The family said that was the kind of person Hornby-Finch was, the kind who could bring people together.

Laurie Loisel can be reached at


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