Truck Safety Group to Address Issues After Simeon’s Crash

Local government officials have created a truck safety group to discuss, plan and engage the community in solutions in response to the June 20 Simeon’s crash.

The group, led by assemblywoman Barbara Lifton and Mayor Svante Myrick, met on Oct. 9 to further develop strategies that will be proposed to the public in early December.

“We’re going to look at a wide range of options,” Lifton said. “We’re going to bring the public in, show them the work we’ve been doing, say, here are all the options you folks have given us and the Department of Transportation has offered and here is where we are on it.”

So far, the proposed solutions include larger and more frequent signs, brake check areas prior to hills, runaway truck ramps, and stronger barriers at the base of the hills, Gene Cilento, a representative from the New York State Department of Transportation, said. Although various solutions have been discussed, none have been put into effect.

The group includes representatives from the state assembly, the city of Ithaca, the NYS Department of Transportation, Tompkins County, and the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“The goal is obviously to improve safety, and we’d love to say we’ll never see this kind of this happen again,” Lifton said. “There’s probably not one magic bullet that is going to guarantee we never have another accident.”

The fatal-crash occurred at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. Simeon’s American Bistro, the cornerstone restaurant on the Ithaca Commons, was calm before the weekend dinner rush. Owner Dean Zervos was at home when he received a phone call from co-owner Rich Avery, who said there was an emergency at the restaurant.

Upon his arrival, Zervos saw a car-carrier tractor-trailer lodged into the side of the building. Due to failed brakes while traveling down Route 79’s steep hill, the truck crashed into Simeon’s, injuring seven people and killing one: 27-year-old bartender Amanda Bush.

The last major accident in that intersection was over 20 years ago, Lifton said. Though the Route 79 hill was an important factor in the crash, the brake failure was largely to blame. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration shut down the trucking company, Quality Relocation Services, Inc., effective October 6. The FMCSA cited a pattern of “serious violations” of safety regulations.

Lifton received numerous emails from community members with concerns about truck safety immediately following the accident.

“It had a very deep impact on the community, and I think we’re going to see that in the public meeting,” Lifton said. “I think we’ll see a considerable turnout and a continued interest in this issue.”

Zervos said the community was incredibly supportive to the restaurant and family of Bush,which received over $23,000 in donations.

As well as the restaurant, the above apartments were also damaged, forcing tenants to relocate. Ben Sparks, 21, former resident of one apartment was home when the crash occurred.

“It definitely affected me a lot,” Sparks said. “It was emotionally draining, just being uprooted literally in a second.”

Simeon’s is currently closed and undergoing renovations. Zervos said they hope to reopen in 2015 when the Commons reconstruction project is expected to be complete. While he is aware of the truck safety problem, he said truck deliveries are necessary to the many businesses on the Commons.

“It’s tough because we’re in a low area, you have two hills that come down to our area and you have to have trucks that come down it,” Zervos said. “There are things that have to be done, but I don’t know how you do it.”

See this story on Ithaca Week.

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