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Cheektowaga man wakened by ‘big bang,’ finds ‘car in the basement’

Gerald Ruhland was fast asleep in the first-floor bedroom of his Cheektowaga home at 2 a.m. Tuesday when he heard “a big bang.”

The 80-year-old retired truck driver ran into the living room and saw a hole in the wall and the room filled with smoke. The floor was buckled. Windows were shattered. He thought his furnace exploded.

Then he heard voices coming from his basement.

He called 911.

“There’s someone in my basement. Send the police over here. I’m the only one who should be here … and they’re calling for help,” he recounted saying.

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See a photo gallery from the scene

Watch video of the crash site

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The 911 operator told Ruhland, 80, to get out of the house immediately. Still on his cellphone, he made his way outside and to the side of the house, where he found a hole in the wall.

“A guy crawled out of the hole,” Ruhland said.

There was also a car, a gray Dodge Avenger, inside the basement.

A second person inside the car was badly injured.

The victims have been identified as Marcellus Hutcherson, 24, of Weston Street in Buffalo, and Caesar J. Scott of Linda Drive in Cheektowaga, who is in his mid- to late 20s. Police have not definitively determined who was behind the wheel at the time of the accident.

Cheektowaga Assistant Police Chief James Speyer said Scott suffered a serious spinal cord injury.

Firefighters sawed the top of the car off to extricate Scott, who was taken to Erie County Medical Center. It appeared the driver had lost control of the vehicle on Beach Road. It careened over the sidewalk, across the lawn of Ruhland’s neighbor’s house and straight into the side of Ruhland’s home. Pieces of the car were strewn over the lawn and tire tracks could be seen on the grass Tuesday morning.

Police are looking into whether speed was a factor in the accident.

“We’re keeping an open mind until we check everything out,” Speyer said.

Light snow fell Tuesday morning as Ruhland stood across the street and stared at the commotion around the only house he had ever lived in.

“I lived there 80 years, since I was born,” he said.

A crew put some boards up to patch the hole temporarily but took them down to reveal the gaping hole – and the crumpled car inside.

Later, a flatbed tow truck pulled up and tipped the bed down into the hole. A crew gingerly pulled the vehicle out, covered in a blue tarp. Workers carried the top of the car out next before bringing in lumber to shore up the house.

The house was declared “unsafe for habitation” but has not been condemned. Ruhland was allowed to get some personal effects out of his house.

Ruhland said he had actually fallen asleep Monday night on the recliner in the living room – just above where the car ended up.

“My leg hurt,” he explained.

But he woke up at about 1 a.m. to use the bathroom and then ended up going to his bedroom.

He supposed he’s lucky.

“These things happen,” he said. “I’ve been lucky my whole life.”

When he was 8, he said, he was struck by a car. “I went right underneath the car.”

He somehow survived but spent six days in the hospital.

“I had a few other accidents when I got driving,” he said. “So I know what it is. It’s just one of those things that happen.”

email: mbecker@buffnews.com and abesecker@buffnews.com