ITHACA, N.Y. — When first responders saw a tractor-trailer sticking out of Simeon’s Restaurant a year ago, they thought people had to be wedged underneath the vehicle.
Lt. Thomas Basher, of the Ithaca Fire Department, said he thought they’d find 15 or 20 people when the tractor trailer was removed.
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Bus To Nature: Route 22
“I came around the corner and I was just in awe of what I saw,” he said. “It was fairly unbelievable.”
Ithaca Police Department Chief John Barber said, “That was my thought also, that there really were people under the wreckage.”
He said everyone was relieved to find that was not the case. One Simeon’s employee, however, died at the scene.
Basher said he was with a second crew of firefighters who relieved the first group after their oxygen tanks ran out. When he entered the building, he already knew there was nothing they could do for Bush. She was already dead.
He said that during the initial hours after the crash, he was in all-out training mode, looking for people to help and making sure there were no other fire hazards.
But the longer he worked at the scene, his thoughts began drifting toward Bush. He knew that somewhere out there, someone had lost a wife, daughter and maybe a mother.
“This kind of thing hits home. It was a gut shot to Ithaca. It was a gut shot to the firefighters,” he said.
Barber said one thing that sticks out to him about that day was the way the tragedy brought people together.
He said he was at the scene until the early morning hours with about a dozen IPD officers and countless other officers from agencies throughout the county.
“Civilians in the area did whatever they could to help out, (too),” he said.
Since the wreck, Basher said the Ithaca Fire Department has reached out to other fire departments to arrange partnerships — for more firefighters and equipment — during major emergencies.
“These are once in a lifetime calls,” he said, but having a coordinated plan with department as far away as Cortland and Auburn makes a difference when people’s lives are at stake.
Barber said it’s tough to look in hindsight for things that could have been done differently to prevent the accident.
One of the things he mentioned, though, were signs that could have been placed on the hill to warn truckers of its steepness and the sudden turn drivers must take near the intersection.
He said any progress in the area benefits people’s safety and, hopefully, can prevent another tragedy like the one at Simeon’s.
He said he’s been a police officer for more than 20 years and has seen horrible accidents and crimes. But the wreck at the heart of downtown Ithaca is one of the worst he’s seen.
“I’ll never forget that day,” he said.