Salamanca Supervisor Michael Phillips and his wife, Donna, the town clerk-elect, lived across the road from Town Hall and were walking there to sign some checks on Friday – something they often did.
But as they crossed Route 353 and North State Street at 5:37 p.m., they were struck and killed by a vehicle traveling southbound. The couple were pronounced dead at the scene, according to Cattaraugus County Sheriff Sgt. David Tobia.
It was dark but Tobia said the weather was clear and he declined to speculate on the cause of the crash. He did say the driver, identified in other news media as a Conewango man, would likely face charges. There were three passengers in the vehicle, one of whom was taken to Olean General Hospital for treatment of minor injuries.
"Ironically, (the Phillipses) had been trying for years to get the speed limit reduced through here, because people speed and don't pay attention," said Salamanca Councilwoman Diana Brodie. "It's a state road – one of the main routes through here – and it's relatively busy. It's a rural area without crosswalks, but (the Phillipses) are always crossing that road or walking their dog, and they were very vigilant crossing. They wore reflective clothing and carried a flashlight when it was dark."
Brodie and Michael Phillips had recently been elected to third terms on the board, and Donna Phillips, who was the deputy town clerk for four years, had recently been elected town clerk.
Michael Phillips was a retired high school science teacher and Donna Phillips retired as an elementary school secretary, Brodie said. She said they have an adult son, Andrew, and also were grandparents.
"They were wonderful people. They knew what they were doing and the town had never run more smoothly," added Brodie. She said and the Phillipses were neighbors, as were the deputy supervisor and highway superintendent. That is who showed up at her front door Friday night to break the news of what had happened, she said.
"Our town is like a family, and at this point we are at a total loss of how to proceed," said Brodie. "We are all very close-knit."
She said a friend of hers who is an emergency medical technician came upon the crash right after it happened and told her that it was the "worst thing he had ever seen – and he had been doing this for years."