N.Y. officers lead 60 stranded tourists to safety through deadly blizzard
The individuals were on a tour bus heading to Washington, D.C., when the vehicle diverged from the road and got wedged into a snow bank
By Stephen T. Watson
The Buffalo News, N.Y.
NORTH TONAWANDA, N.Y. — A tour bus carrying about 60 people who were on their way to Washington, D.C., went off River Road in North Tonawanda, near Gratwick Park, and got wedged into a snow bank around 1:20 p.m. Saturday.
“River Road, it was probably the worst part of the city,” Police Chief Keith Glass said this week.
The bus was about a foot away from going into a ditch and, potentially, tipping over.
Officers Brandon Lathrop and Mike Rosky managed to get to the bus in a pickup truck and began getting people off and ferrying them to the Gratwick Hose fire station in groups of four.
The pickup got stuck once in the snow and got help getting out from a Department of Public Works vehicle. When the pickup got stuck again in the zero-visibility conditions, the officers realized driving wouldn’t work, Glass said. Lathrop and Rosky got the four tour members through the knee-deep snow to the fire hall and paused to warm up.
“They decided to go by foot, walk all the way back to the bus, gather all the people up, form a line and they walked the rest of the people about a mile through the blizzard to Gratwick Hose,” Glass said.
Authorities don’t know where the Spanish-speaking group came from, Glass said, nor what they had been doing in the area as the storm hit.
The group got warm and spent the night at the fire hall, where Gratwick Hose President Bob Brennan cooked up some chowder for them. On Sunday morning, Capt. Rob Frank and Lt. James Muehlbauer began trying to find a place where the group could more comfortably spend Christmas night.
In the meantime, Lts. Mike Roberts and Jeff Swick took the tour manager to a nearby 7-Eleven to fill up a garbage bag with drinks and snacks for the group.
Frank found a hotel in Niagara Falls that could accommodate the group, but police then ran into the problem of how to get them to the hotel. Brennan helped get a First Student school bus and the police SWAT vehicle dug out of the snow and crews loaded the tour group onto those vehicles for the trek to the Falls.
They spent at least Christmas night at the hotel. Glass said he knows the bus was pulled out of the snow later Sunday but he doesn’t know whether the group got back on the road to continue their trip to D.C. yet.
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