One dead, several injured after a runaway tractor trailer crashes into Simeon's on the Commons

June 20, 2014

"We can confirm there is at least one casualty," Ithaca Police Department public affairs officer Jamie Williamson told gathered members of the media at a press conference early Friday evening in the wake of a crash at Simeon's on the Commons. "At least four people were injured and transported to a local hospital," Williamson said. "A fifth person may have been injured and taken himself to the hospital."

The scene after a truck crash in downtown Ithaca on Friday afternoon. 14850 Photo.The scene after a truck crash in downtown Ithaca on Friday afternoon. 14850 Photo.A tractor trailer carrying cars down the East State Street hill into Downtown Ithaca was unable to slow down enough to make a turn onto Aurora Street and crashed into Simeon's Restaurant on Friday afternoon. Emergency responders at the scene report multiple injuries and say the building is unstable, and Officer Williamson says IPD has asked drivers and pedestrians to avoid the area at the east end of the Ithaca Commons tonight and at least through Saturday morning.

A truck crashed into the building that houses Simeon's Restaurant on Friday afternoon. Photo courtesy of Helen T. Clark.A truck crashed into the building that houses Simeon's Restaurant on Friday afternoon. Photo courtesy of Helen T. Clark.The truck crashed through the corner of the building at the intersection of East State Street and North Aurora Street, which also contains office space and apartments on the upper floors, at about 4:10pm. Witnesses said the truck's brakes appeared to be smoking as it reached the bottom of the hill, where Route 79 traffic headed westbound bears right on Seneca Way onto Seneca Street to head towards Ithaca's west end.

Emergency responders called medevac helicopters to the scene, and others with minor injuries have been treated at the scene. Ithaca police wouldn't comment on specifics of injuries out of concern for victims' privacy, but said the injuries were mostly not life-threatening. The driver of the truck, who Williamson said is cooperating with police, sustained what he called "superficial injuries."

Williamson said the first responders on the scene found a small fire in the bar area of the restaurant. "We extinguished it with our own fire extinguisher and then handed it off to the fire department when they arrived on the scene."

The crash occurred early in the restaurant's happy hour, when customers would have just started enjoying drinks or appetizers at the popular downtown restaurant, and staff would have been preparing for the Friday evening dinner rush. "There were people on the sidewalk, but we understand no one was seated yet at the tables along North Aurora Street or the 200 block of East State Street," Williamson said.

IPD officer Jamie Williamson and Mayor Svante Myrick speak to media late Friday afternoon. 14850 Photo.IPD officer Jamie Williamson and Mayor Svante Myrick speak to media late Friday afternoon. 14850 Photo.Businesses along the 100 block of North Aurora Street, including several restaurants, were evacuated and are not likely to reopen Friday evening. Witnesses said there was minor damage to the gallery building next door to Simeon's on West State Street. Mayor Myrick says the Tompkins County Human Services Department is on the scene, and will be able to help tenants.

Built in 1871, the Griffin Block building that houses Simeon's contained a candy shop early in the 20th century, followed by a clothing store, and was restored in the 1970s. Named for Simeon Dewitt, who founded Ithaca, Simeon's first opened as a soda shop in 1975, and then evolved into a tavern and a restaurant. It was owned for a little over a decade by Alan Cohen, a former mayor of the City of Ithaca. Just a few years ago, the restaurant expanded into what had been a pizzeria next door, adding an additional dining room and upgraded kitchen space. The second floor has at various times contained a used bookstore, a copy shop, magazine offices, and other businesses.

"There is some risk of the building collapsing," says City of Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick. "It's a beautiful and historic building, and we hope it can be restored. If it seems the building will come down, though, we will take it down ourselves." Williamson added, "The City engineer and an outside engineering firm are going to evaluate the building and determine whether it needs to be evacuated fully. The building itself is going to be shut down for the foreseeable future." Myrick says none of the building's residents, on the third and fourth floors, were believed to be in the building at the time of the crash, though authorities haven't been able to get into all of the upstairs rooms.

A number of vehicles have crashed into this corner building after losing control coming down South Aurora Street or East State Street over the years, but concrete bollards added at the edge of the sidewalk in the 1990s helped to reduce the risks to the building.

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