FDNY Buses Collide; 21 Hurt

By Denise M. Bonilla
Staff Writer

October 4, 2003

Two buses filled with firefighters on their way to a funeral for one of their own collided Friday morning on the south service road of the Long Island Expressway in Hauppauge. Twenty-one men were injured, three of them in seriously.

The accident occurred just before noon as the two buses traveled east near Exit 55 of the expressway. The lead bus, driven by West Babylon firefighter Thomas Haeseker, 53, became stopped in traffic as it was about to cross the Motor Parkway, said Suffolk police spokesman Robert McLaren. The bus behind it, a Wyandanch Fire Department bus driven by John P. Miller, 53, of Dix Hills, could not stop in time. The two buses collided, pushing the West Babylon bus 100 to 150 yards to the other side of the parkway.

Miller was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital in Stony Brook and was in serious condition Friday with open abdominal injuries. Haeseker was treated and released from Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip with neck and back injuries. Nineteen other men were injured and taken to the two hospitals or Southside Hospital in Bay Shore for treatment. East Brentwood Fire Chief Tate Reilly said two of the firefighters were in serious condition, but their identities were not immediately available.

Haeseker, reached at his home, declined to talk about the accident, but said he was recovering from whiplash. Reilly said he did not know how many firefighters were aboard the red and white motor-coach style buses, but said they were both filled.

The buses were on their way to Holbrook for the funeral of James O'Shea, the first city firefighter to die in the line of duty since the World Trade Center attack on Sept. 11, 2001. O'Shea, who lived in Holbrook, was a firefighter for Ladder Company 127 in Queens, but had, at various times in his 17-year career, worked as a volunteer for departments in Brentwood, Holbrook and Lakeland. He had a heart attack at his house Sept. 27 after fighting a fire in Kew Gardens.

Frank Sadiqi owns an Exxon station and convenience store on the southwest corner of where the accident occurred. "I heard a crashing sound, like a bang, but it wasn't that loud," he said.

Sadiqi said several firefighters ran into the store to ask for towels to stop bleeding, while others borrowed chains to try and remove the cracked windshield of the Wyandanch bus.

"It's sad, they're already in mourning," he said of the firefighters. "I saw a couple of guys crying. It was a very sad scene." Reilly said he was unsure if the buses were equipped with safety belts.

McLaren said police do not know how fast the buses were traveling, but the speed limit for the service road is 40 mph. He said no summonses have been issued but police are still investigating.

Sadiqi and other workers in the area said there are few accidents there, but Laura Melenciano, a ticket agent in the Islip Greyhound bus station located on the southeast corner of the intersection, said it was the second accident there in less than a month. She said she routinely warns customers driving to the station to use caution when trying to turn from the service road.

"Even if you have your signal on, they won't slow up, they won't let you in," she said.

Eric Raudies, assistant chief for the Brentwood department, said the two buses contained a mixture of New York City and Brentwood firefighters, many of whom knew O'Shea well.

"It's more heartbreak for us," Raudies said. "To see something like this in a time of mourning, that something like this has to happen is terrible."