12/01/2003

'He lost his life trying to help me, and he didn't even know who I was'

Officer Down: Deputy Glenn M. Searles - [Syracuse, New York]

By Mike McAndrew, The Syracuse Post-Standard

Kristine Bell, of Syracuse, wishes with all of her heart that Onondaga County sheriff's Deputy Glenn M. Searles had not stopped to help her after her car slid off the road.

"He lost his life trying to help me, and he didn't even know who I was," said Bell, a 24-year-old mother of two children.

Saturday night, Bell was driving home after working a 12-hour shift as general manager at a Pizza Hut. She tried to pass a tractor-trailer on southbound Interstate 481, but the trailer veered into her lane, her Hyundai Sonata hit a patch of snow, and she slid into the median near the Kirkville Road exit.

Her wheels spun in the slushy snow when she tried to drive back onto the highway.

"I didn't call 911," she said. Instead, Bell telephoned her husband, Eric, who was working as a manager at Tully's Good Times restaurant, and sat in her car waiting for his rescue.

A motorist momentarily stopped to check if she was injured. Bell wasn't. She was just mad at her predicament.

After the motorist left, Bell looked through her fogged-up passenger window and saw flashing emergency lights from Searles' patrol car as he parked on the side of the road.

"He never even made it to my car," Bell said.

She heard a loud crash, looked in her rear-view mirror and saw a minivan sliding fast down the embankment toward her car.

"I just braced myself because I thought I was going to get hit," she said. "It was going so fast."

The minivan stopped about 12 inches from her car.

But the van had pushed Searles' patrol car in front of her Hyundai.

Sitting in the dark, Bell assumed the deputy was in his car because she had not seen him get out.

Bell went to the patrol car to see if the deputy was hurt. He wasn't there. She guessed the deputy might be helping the occupants of the minivan. So she started walking toward the van.

Then she saw something on the ground by the side of the highway.

"As I ran up to him, I was calling 911," Bell said. "I was freaking out. I told the dispatcher a cop was just hit. I told her where I was. I leaned down; I checked if he was breathing. He wasn't moving or breathing. I tried waving people down on the highway, but nobody stopped."

Bell said the dispatcher told her to get away from the road and to check whether the occupants of the minivan were hurt.

The minivan's driver, Kyle Cassidy, was unconscious.

Cassidy's wife, Melinda, who was in the front passenger seat, told her she was a registered nurse, but her door was stuck shut. Cassidy asked her to get some snow to put on the head of one of her three children, who were crying in the back seats.

"The wife, she didn't even realize they had hit a man. I told her. She had this look on her face like 'Oh my god,' " Bell said.

The first deputy to respond pulled up at the accident scene seconds before Bell's husband.

The deputy and her husband performed cardio-pulmonary resuscitation on Searles until an ambulance arrived.

"I was crying the whole time. And everyone was being so nice to me. The deputies kept asking if I was OK," Bell said.

Her husband drove her to the sheriff's department to make a statement to shaken investigators.

She said Searles' co-workers kept telling her Saturday night not to blame herself. They told her Searles was in serious condition at St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center.

Sunday morning, Bell bought The Post-Standard and learned that Searles had died shortly after 8 p.m. Saturday at the hospital.

"The guilt is horrible," she said. "I wish I could have done more to help him and to tell his family I'm sorry."

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