ITHACA, N.Y. — A state police investigation has found that the fatal crash at Simeon’s could have been avoided if the driver had been traveling more slowly and in a lower gear.
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Bus To Nature: Route 22
On Tuesday, hundreds of pages of Ithaca police and New York State police records were released to the Ithaca Voice in response to a Freedom of Information Law request filed with the City of Ithaca weeks ago.
The police records include dozens of photographs from the scene of the accident — which killed a pregnant young mother and destroyed Simeon’s bistro — as well as a chronology of the law enforcement investigation, witness accounts of the incident and insurance records of the trucking company.
The newly released documents also include a 9-page report from New York State Police Inv. Robert E. Bennett of the Troop C Collision Reconstruction Unit. This report, which can now be read in full below, has been widely cited by local law enforcement as the lynchpin of the Simeon’s investigation.
Viacheslav Grychanyi, 37, of Spokane, Wash., pleaded guilty to several traffic violations but never faced criminal charges for his role in the accident.
Inv. Bennett’s report gives the most comprehensive look to date of the degree to which law enforcement identified Grychanyi as responsible for the crash.
Bennett’s reconstruction report notes, for instance, that the trucker “had the ability to stop” before driving into the restaurant.
“The primary causative factor in this collision, as it relates to the scene evidence, was the operator of Vehicle #1 traveling too fast to make the right turn,” Inv. Bennett writes on page 8 of the state police report.
“Contributing factors include the roadway topography, which would have allowed Vehicle #1 to accelerate as it was traveling down the steep grade prior to the collision, and operator error.”
The Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office announced in May that it had ruled out criminal charges against Grychanyi.
“We did a thorough investigation; we took our time; we have determined that there isn’t criminal liability here,” District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson told the Ithaca Voice in May. “Based on the evidence that we have, he didn’t commit a crime. … He was charged with what we he had to charge him with.”
Grychanyi was eventually charged with the traffic violations of speeding, two counts of having an over-length vehicle and having defective brakes. (In an interview conducted this spring by a Russian translator working for the Ithaca Voice, Grychanyi expressed his remorse but declined to comment on the crash.) Grychanyi pleaded guilty to the charges and paid $1,929 in fines.
Inv. Bennett’s report also notes that Grychanyi did not use his engine brake in trying to prevent the crash.
“The operator of Vehicle #1 did not use the engine brake to assist with slowing the vehicle nor did he utilize the full braking capacity for the vehicle,” Inv. Bennett’s report says.
“If Vehicle #1 was in low gear, the engine brake would have likely slowed the vehicle prior to the collision scene and allowed Vehicle #1 to safely make the right turn.”
We’ve just obtained these records this afternoon and will likely be providing additional stories from the reports.