On a warm, sunny June 17, a little after noon near the corner of Freedom Road and McMurray in the town of Freedom, State Police in Machias responded to a head-on collision. Mercy Flight out of Olean General Hospital was one of three helicopters called in to help, with flight paramedic Dan Hankey the first to land.
Months after the accident, a makeshift memorial featuring gouges in the asphalt and scattered debris remain at the scene.
What You Need To Know
- The American Red Cross is honoring people helping others in need
- Flight crews are being recognized for helping save lives during a fatal car crash in Freedom
- Three people were killed in the crash, as flight crews saved others
"The scene was pretty chaotic. Cars were unrecognizable," said Hankey. "There were lots of fire department personnel. There was police officers all frantically moving about doing their work as best as they could to try and save these folks lives."
Troopers say a 21-year-old male driving a Dodge Ram truck crossed the center line and hit an oncoming Ford Focus, driven by his sister. Hankey eventually flew her to Erie County Medical Center, where she later died. Two of her three female passengers, ages 6 and 17, died at the scene.
The third passenger, a 4-year-old girl, survived, after she was flown to Oishei Children's Hospital by Josh Reformat, lead flight paramedic out of Buffalo, who was next to land at the scene.
"[It was] very chaotic [and] very messy," said Reformat. "Where we landed was kind of far away. We just saw a bunch of cars on the side of the road. It looked like a bomb had gone off."
Eric Barkey flew from Batavia and was the last to land. He treated a 19-year-old male passenger of the truck and flew him to Erie County Medical Center. He survived, as did the 21-year-old male driver of that truck, treated locally and released.
"We noticed the vehicles that were involved in the accident obviously in the middle of the scene and it looked pretty catastrophic from the air," said Barkey.
All three paramedics appreciate the Red Cross recognizing them for a career that's often emotionally exhausting and physically demanding.
"I don't know if I feel like a hero. I feel like somebody who has the knowledge to help people when they're in need," said Barkey. "And I take comfort in knowing that we can provide that sort of critical care."
"Because this is what we do," said Barkey. "It's our job. It's what we train to do. It's what we like to do. It's what we're here for."
Hankey recently caught up with the others and says he hopes the recognition sparks an interest in others to help save lives and fill a growing need.
"I try to hope that out of every tragedy comes some good," said Hankey. "My hope is that out of this tragedy that happened down in Freedom, hopefully our actions and our service to the community will bring awareness to what emergency services and emergency health care does."
In late September, troopers reported the driver of the truck, Evan Klink, faces multiple charges, including three counts of second-degree murder, one count of aggravated vehicular homicide, vehicular manslaughter and assault.