Ithaca, N.Y. — Walter Wiggins began representing the Cornell Barber Shop as a law school student in the early 1950s.

About 60 years later, Wiggins is undertaking what he thinks is his client’s first-ever lawsuit.

The Cornell Barber Shop is suing driver Viacheslav Grychanyi, 37, and the trucking company Quality Relocation Services for their role in the fatal June 20 crash at Simeon’s.

Walter Wiggins, 89, has represented the Cornell Barber Shop for six decades. The barbershop filed its first lawsuit in Wiggins’ memory against the truck driver and company in the Simeon’s crash. (Jeff Stein/IthacaVoice)
Walter Wiggins, 89, has represented the Cornell Barber Shop for six decades. The barbershop filed its first lawsuit in Wiggins’ memory against the truck driver and company in the Simeon’s crash. (Jeff Stein/IthacaVoice)
The Cornell Barber Shop is more than 100 years old. (Jeff Stein/Ithaca Voice)

The accident killed a pregnant young mother, injured several more and smashed Simeon’s restaurant into smithereens.

It also put several Commons businesses — including the Cornell Barber Shop, which is more than 100 years old — on hold indefinitely.

Billy Murray took over the shop in the 1970s. He’s been devastated — financially and personally — by the crash, Wiggins said.

“It creates great hardship for his family because it’s a family-owned business,” Wiggins said. “It’s his sole livelihood.”

Wiggins, 89, said the case is “open and shut.”

“The truck ran into my client’s place of business and destroyed it,” Wiggins said. “I don’t see any legal obstacles. The action speaks for itself.”

Wiggins, who turns 90 in two months, said he has grown to become friends with the Murray family outside of work. He said his daughter, in particular, is close family friends with the Murrays.

After the June 20 crash, it took some time for Wiggins to learn that none of the barber shop’s workers had been badly injured, or worse, in the accident. “Of course” he had been worried about their safety, he said.

The Cornell Barber Shop is local right below Simeon’s restaurant. The crash“destroyed personal property including furniture, fixtures, barber chairs, cash registers and miscellaneous equipment used in the operation of said Barber Shop,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed in July.

Grychanyi, 37, of Spokane, Wash., has been ticketed by police with having a defective brake-limit device and having an over-length vehicle. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges. An Ithaca and state police investigation is continuing.

A sign posted at the entrance of the Cornell Barber Shop. (Jeff Stein/IthacaVoice)
The inside of the shop. (Jeff Stein/IthacaVoice)

Wiggins said the course of his lawsuit will depend greatly on what Grychanyi says in court.

“I’m interested to see whether he’s blaming it on the contour of the land, the lack of signs, the brakes that he knew nothing about whether it’s the fault of the vehicle he’s operating,” Wiggins said, “so until he goes on record, I cant be certain of which of the avenues I shall pursue.”

Wiggins spoke with The Ithaca Voice in an interview in his offices at 308 North Tioga Street, a stone’s throw away from the Commons. When he began representing the Cornel Barber Shop as a law student, Wiggins worked out of a building adjacent to what now holds the Mahogany Grill. It was a pharmacy back then, he said.

“I don’t have any recollection of what I did for that company what is now 60 years ago,” Wiggins said. “It was a small, successful business, and like any business they wanted to stay away from the lawyers if they could.”

Wiggins’ musty office has no computer. He sits surrounded by tall mounds of papers, legal binders and tomes of jurisprudence. An Abraham Lincoln portrait hangs a few feet from his desk.

He said he has no doubt that he will be able to appear in court for his client if it comes to that.

“I’ve been arguing in court for over 60 years,” Wiggins said, “and certainly, if this case requires court litigation, I’ll be there.”

But with his ninth decade approaching, does the attorney think about retirement?

“I don’t know the meaning of the word,” Wiggins said, “The answer is: No.”


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.