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Updated: July 5, 2024, 10:33 PM

Mourners attend visitation for NYPD Officer Emilia Rennhack, killed in nail salon crash, recall her devotion to work, love for family

By John Asbury

Family and friends at Friday's visitation in New Hyde Park for Emilia Rennhack remembered the NYPD officer, killed by an alleged drunken driver, for her infectious smile, devotion to police work and love for her family.

“It’s just a horrible tragedy and a lot of the people inside were probably at their wedding last August. It just doesn’t make sense,” said Joe Simone of Bay Shore, who said he knew her husband Carl Rennhack since he was a child and attended their wedding last year on the North Fork. “You could tell these two kids were so in love and really excited to get married. This situation is just heart-wrenching.”

Rennhack, 30, of Deer Park, was inside the Hawaii Nail & Spa on Grand Boulevard in Deer Park, where police said Steven Schwally, 64, of Dix Hills, was speeding in his 2020 Chevy Traverse SUV and crashed through the storefront just before 5 p.m. on June 28.

The crash also killed the salon owner, Jiancai Chen, 37, of Bayside, and salon employees Yan Xu, 41, and Meizi Zhang, 50, both of Flushing. Chen’s wife and eight other people were injured in the crash.

Police said Schwally, who is homeless, was speeding through the neighboring shopping center across the street when he nearly hit several pedestrians, and then sped through the intersection on Grand Boulevard, jumped the curb of the nail salon’s strip mall and crashed into the back of the salon.

Schwally told police he had been drinking 18 beers the night before the crash. He pleaded not guilty to driving while intoxicated charges Monday and the case is going to the grand jury. 

Rennhack was off duty when she was visiting the salon for a nail appointment last Friday. Her husband, Carl Rennhack, who is a NYPD detective, told Newsday that his wife was a Polish immigrant and they met while both working at the 102nd Precinct in Queens.

Funeral services will be held at the New Hyde Park Funeral Home at noon Saturday.

Diana Conde, who worked as a civilian community assistant to the 102nd Precinct in Queens, said she knew Emilia Rennhack as a devoted friendly officer.

“Emilia was a wonderful person and had a smile for everybody. We miss her from the 102,” Conde said. “She was amazing. It’s sad she had to leave us. Everything she did was incredible. She made sure things get done.”

Linda Holzhauer, a police administrative aide at the 102nd Precinct, knew Rennhack since she joined the precinct.

“She was very friendly, kind and she did all her work,” Holzhauer said. “It’s very tragic because I saw her two days before she passed. I handed her her mail and that was the last time I saw her. She was very friendly, energetic and always smiling.”

Laurie Regan, an emergency nurse at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center who encountered Rennhack many times over the years, said she handled her "very difficult" job with the domestic violence unit. "She lit up a room, she was a beautiful woman," Regan said. "She handled herself well."

Scores of New York City police officers, both in crisp, navy uniforms and black and gray suits, badges upon their chests and their belts bearing mourning bands, came to the evening session for Officer Rennhack. Earlier, Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, NYPD Commissioner Edward A. Caban and Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman attended the visitation.

“It’s important that we show support for each other. It's always a tragedy when you lose somebody in a family, a family that has such a big second family of the men and women who wear the uniform,” Ryder said.

Ryder said he spoke with the family, including her husband and Rennhack’s parents, who spoke through a Polish translator.

Other visitors included New York City Mayor Eric Adams.

“She not only believed in the American dream and pursued that dream, but she wanted to make our city safe so others could pursue that same dream,” Adams said.

“Normally, officers respond to these jobs. And now you have to get that call to say your loved one was the victim of this crash. There’s not much you can say or do, but that you're going to be there for them. And she has a family of thousands of officers, and 8.3 million New Yorkers who were going to be there for you,” he told Rennhack's family. 

Kasia Jankowski of Queens said she had just met Rennhack in April at the NYPD Pulaski Dinner Dance in Great Neck.

"She was just a happy, smiling girl," Jankowski said, sobbing. "She was having a ball."

NYP PBA president Patrick Hendry visited the family and vowed they would have whatever help they needed moving forward after Rennhack's loss.

"The family is going through an incredibly difficult time and mourning and a loss of an amazing person who's a great police officer for over five years," Hendry said. "... Her husband's a detective and is going through so many emotions from the loss of his wife and his family in blue is mourning right now."

Hendry said officers would continue to watch the court case process to bring justice for Rennhack and the other victims.

"We're going to be in that courtroom with his family and our family and blue and all the other victims involved here," Hendry said.