Family, Fest Vendor Survive Flying Debris From Church Collapse

OSWEGO, NY – Cari Joyce and her family were driving eastbound in the south lane on Route 104 Sunday afternoon.

As they rolled past East Fourth Street they were sharing happy memories about Harborfest 2010. The last thing they expected was for a vacant building to collapse on their vehicle.

“I heard a rumbling sound and looked up to see the top of the St. Louis Church crumbling,” Cari said.

She yelled to her husband, who was driving, “The building is falling, get out of the way!”

At that time, they saw a couple who was walking their dog yell, “Run!” as they darted across the street.

Two people walking on East Bridge Street are dwarfed by the pile of rubble that once was St. Louis Church
Two people walking on East Bridge Street are dwarfed by the pile of rubble that once was St. Louis Church.

“Our front windows were down and no sooner than I yelled to my husband our vehicle began getting pelted with flying bricks, wood, rock, and chunks of insulation,” she said.

A large brick was coming into their car, so Cari instinctively held up her hand to block it.

“It hit my wrist. My wrist isn’t broken only badly bruised and so I have a splint,” she said.

Her husband navigated the vehicle quickly across the street, pulled into the gas station parking lot and yelled, “Get the kids!”

“We could barely see because of the large black dust cloud,” Cari said. “Some kind people from the VFW ushered us inside the building and took care of us while my husband ran out to see if anyone was hurt.”

The couple’s 5-year-old and 3-month-old “were terrified,” Cari said, adding “While we feel fortunate to be safe, we are still a bit shaken.”

It was like something out of a movie, she noted.

“Our car and everything in it is unusable. Diaper bags, strollers, car seats, other belongings … we are working on that with insurance now and hoping that it can be replaced,” she said.

Their 5-year-old daughter has respiratory deficiency, so they worry she may have inhaled some dust and debris particles.

The family remained at the collapse scene for several hours to file reports and wait for tow service.

Cari’s parents picked up the children to bathe them and change their clothes “since we were all coated in debris,” she said.

“We are all very fortunate that our city didn’t suffer greater loss; if there were more cars on the road or pedestrians (during Saturday’s crowded festivities, for example), the loss could have been great,” she said.

People looked for injured, called 911, directed traffic, and escorted Cari’s family to safety.

The huge pile of rubble from the St. Louis Church collapse on Sunday will likely take two weeks to be removed.
The huge pile of rubble from the St. Louis Church collapse on Sunday will likely take two weeks to be removed.

“Gary’s bar distributed water to us and the emergency responders since the insulation was irritating everyone’s nose and mouth,” she said. “We are truly fortunate and delighted at the good in those around us.”

“The people in the VFW were very kind and helped calm my children and me down,” she continued. “Our family is very thankful that the residents and visitors of our city came together to initiate the emergency services.”

Meanwhile, in the parking lot on the church’s south side, Jeff Goodyear narrowly escaped serious injury after bricks and other debris pelted his vehicle.

Goodyear, the owner of a bison ranch (Maple Ridge) in Hinsdale, was a Harborfest vendor in East Park who was packing up some of his equipment for the ride home.

He said he was taking the large bison head he had displayed on the front of his booth and packing it in the trailer when the church began to collapse.

Goodyear had to seek shelter inside the trailer.

“It was the strangest thing I ever experienced,” he told Oswego County “And, it was scary, too.”

He said he heard what sounded like .22 shots.

“It was like pop, pop, pop. I tried to figure out what was happening, and the next thing I heard was glass hitting the asphalt,” he said.

When he got out of the trailer to see what was going on, a brick landed about a yard in front of him.

“I wondered who would be throwing a brick at me. Then I realized what was happening and I jumped back inside the trailer and could hear the walls collapsing,” he said.

His partner’s truck was parked in the same lot, closer to the side of the church, a few yards away from Goodyear’s vehicle.

“When the wall started coming down, it was all one sheet. If his truck hadn’t been there, I would have been in big trouble,” It hit his truck and broke in half. That cut the distance down a few feet and it didn’t fall on me,” he explained. “If it wasn’t for that, I might not be here.”

A Harborfest vendor's vehicle was badly damaged Sunday by the falling debris.
A Harborfest vendor's vehicle was badly damaged Sunday by the falling debris.

Despite that harrowing experience, Goodyear has much praise for the Port City and its people.

“You have a real nice town. A lot of people came to help me,” he said. “There was chaos everywhere for about 15 to 20 minutes, but the authorities did a real good job of taking care of everything and making sure no one got hurt. The mayor was even helping clear some of the debris.”

“The chief of police and Lt. (Charles) Searor helped me get my vehicle out. They went above and beyond,” Goodyear said. “They even contacted the Red Cross to make arrangements in case I needed a place to stay for the night. (People) one right after another came over to see what they could do to help me. When push came to shove, the people in Oswego really stepped up to help. We really appreciate that.”

The church is owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse. A deal was in the works to sell the site to an Oswego arts group. The deal, however, has been called off.

Goodyear said he is waiting for the diocese to call about the damage to his vehicle cause by the falling debris.

At Monday night’s council meeting Mayor Randy Bateman announced that the diocese would pay for the cleanup.

“Typically, in a situation like this, the city would hire the contractor, pay the contractor and then bill the landlord or property owner,” the mayor said Monday night. “In this case, the diocese has agreed with the contractor to pay him directly.”

The diocese is taking bids for the overall cleanup, he added.

“I told the diocese folks to expect a bill from our DPW, fire and traffic personnel, as well as police department (to cover the city’s costs on Sunday),” the mayor said.

The amount of the bill is still being calculated.

The diocese closed the church at East Fourth and Bridge streets on Dec. 31, 2000. It has been vacant ever since.

Previous water damage combined with the recent heavy rains is believed to be the cause of the collapse, according to the city’s Code Enforcement Director.

At Monday’s council meeting, Shawn Walker (Fourth Ward) suggested the city inspected other potentially dangerous sites to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again.

1 Comment

  1. We met the the Maple Ridge folks over the weekend and spoke to them about one of our relatives starting an organic ranch in upstate NY. IF they remember us, we hope they know that they were the first people we thought of regarding the collapse as they were so close to the spot. I don’t know if it was kismet, or something, that we also wondered if one of the vehicles was theirs.

    I am very glad to hear that personal injuries all round were at a minimum. Sorry about the loss of your baby bison head! That was a sweet addition to the booth. Of course, boy bison are not at a premium on a ranch, so we suspect that this item is recoverable, and of course, so glad no one was hurt!

    Hope you folks ALL come back to Harborfest. You know what they say about getting back on the horse! We hope you will have better memories on your second Harborfest, Goodyears!

    God bless! And it must have been a blessing from God that this church didn’t result in anyone being physically seriously injured. Hope the babies are okay (and Mom’s wrist).

    And of course, for the loss of your vehicles.

    who had just left the park fifteen minutes earlier!

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