Visitation will be held today for a postmistress from Hempfield who was killed Friday morning in a crash with a water tanker along Route 66 in Washington Township.
Nicolette "Nikki" Rafalski, 48, was pronounced dead by the Westmoreland County coroner's office shortly after the 8:20 a.m. accident near the intersection with Route 356.
Police said it appeared the tanker truck drifted into the path of Mrs. Rafalski's vehicle at a stop sign, though the investigation remained ongoing Sunday.
Until recently, Mrs. Rafalski had worked for post offices in Armstrong and Somerset counties, but her family said she was promoted a month ago to officer-in-charge of the post office in Schenley, much closer to her home and her three children, Christen, 25, Brandon, 21, and Christopher, 20.
"She was so excited that she was going to be closer to home," said Mrs. Rafalski's sister, Christina Rodman.
In December, Mrs. Rafalski celebrated her 25th wedding anniversary with her husband, Raymond J. Rafalski, who survives her, along with her mother Deanna Callas of Monroeville; brothers Steve Callas of Green Tree, Gregory Callas of East Pittsburgh and Paul Callas of Jeannette; and her sisters, Maria Callas Krishnaswamy of Monroeville and Mrs. Rodman of North Braddock.
Mr. Rafalski said he and his wife met in 1986 when she was working as a cashier at the Giant Eagle in Braddock Hills and he was working in the produce department of the same store.
"I will be totally lost without her," he said. "She said I was the best thing that ever happened to her."
Mrs. Rafalski was the valedictorian of the 1981 graduating class of Turtle Creek High School and went on to attend Penn State University.
Her family said Mrs. Rafalski loved music and was an accomplished vocalist who recorded a song in the 1980s and especially loved singing "Wasted on the Way," by the band Crosby, Stills and Nash.
"We were a musical family, and we always got together and sang," Mrs. Callas Krishnaswamy said.
"She loved musicals," remembered her son, Christopher, who said his mother often went out of her way to attend high school and college productions, especially those involving her children.
"Anything we did, she learned to love," he said.
Mrs. Callas Krishnaswamy said her sister doted on her children, who reside with their parents in Hempfield.
"She adored the children, and she was so proud of everything they did," she said.
Mrs. Rafalski worked as a stay-at-home mom when her children were young, then nine years ago went to work as a data entry clerk for the postal service before moving up in the ranks to officer-in-charge about a month ago.
Mrs. Rafalski told her sisters that she loved her customers at the post office.
"Nikki was the most beautiful person you'd ever want to meet," Mrs. Callas Krishnaswamy said. "She lit up a room when she walked in. She was always laughing and joking."
"She had the heartiest laugh," remembered her brother Steve. "She was like a female Santa Claus."
Mrs. Callas Krishnaswamy said she spoke to her sister on the phone the day before she died and said she had been looking forward to seeing a nephew perform in a local Greek festival.
"I told her I loved her and she told me she loved me, so I got that gift," she said.
Friends will be received today and Tuesday from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. at Patrick T. Lanigan Funeral Home at 700 Linden Ave., East Pittsburgh.
A Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Wednesday in Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church, Greensburg, followed by entombment at Westmoreland County Memorial Park.
Janice Crompton: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-851-1867.