Yardwork on an idyllic morning in the Town of Wales turned tragic Sunday when a grandfather and his grandson were killed after the tractor they were using to uproot a pine tree flipped over, pinning them underneath, authorities said.
“He was trying to drag a dead tree out of the yard, remove it out of the dirt, and when the chain tightened, the tractor flipped around,” said Erie County Sheriff’s Capt. Ronald L. Kenyon.
The accident occurred just after 11:30 a.m. in the backyard of the home at 13696 Schang Road, he said. The victims were identified as John K. Rutkowski, 56, who lives at that address, and Odin Lucas, 7, of Cheektowaga.
Wales Center firefighters were first to arrive and started CPR after helping neighbors lift the tractor off the victims.
A Mercy Flight helicopter was called, but Rutkowski was pronounced dead at the scene while the boy was rushed by Rural/Metro Medical Services ambulance to Mercy Hospital, where he was also pronounced dead, Kenyon said.
“Just a horrible, horrible tragedy,” he said. “One alone is bad enough, but two, just horrible.”
At the Wales Center fire station nearby on Big Tree Road, firefighters were coping with the traumatic incident that is rare in the rural area bordering Wyoming County and especially painful because it involved a child.
“A lot of our firemen are not doing so great,” said one firefighter. “You’re human when it gets to you.”
Rick Koch, pastor of Williston United Methodist Church, was called to offer individual counseling to firefighters, with a group stress debriefing scheduled for Monday.
“As much as these men and women go through, there are experiences like the one they had that they will still find difficult to process,” he said. “What this time period is about is helping make sure that everybody is in a place that is normal.”
Shortly before 4 p.m. on Schang Road, the Ferguson agricultural tractor was loaded onto a flatbed truck and taken away, along with the 8-foot tree.
“I guarantee they thought it was just going to pop right out,” said the firefighter. “I would have thought it would pop right out. I would’ve done the same thing.”