Coaldale volunteer firefighters on Tuesday spoke in their own defense against accusations that several of them beat a borough man early Sunday after a fund-raising event at the local VFW.
Some residents of Ridge Street say they saw firemen chasing and assaulting Joseph Terry, 47, of 151 Third St. Terry's mother told the TIMES NEWS on Tuesday morning that her son was in critical condition in St. Luke's Hospital and Health Network, Bethlehem, with a torn artery in his brain, a fractured cheekbone, and blurred vision in one eye.
Fire Chief Richard Marek said that's not what happened. He said that Terry had come at him after firefighters tried to get him to stay at the VFW to await police after throwing a beer bottle, and that Terry fell after another firefighter tried to protect Marek, who is recovering from knee replacement surgery.
Firefighters say they have been the targets of disturbing postings on their Facebook page – one woman posted that (sic) "i hope one day my house burns down to pieces and yous are in it and it kills yous" – and want their side of the story known.
"We can do 1,000 good deeds, and the one false accusation is the thing that sticks with us," said firefighter Louis Mitchalk, who was not involved in the incident.
Marek and a few firefighters met with the TIMES NEWS on Tuesday evening to tell their side of the story.
Marek said the incident began to unfold at about 1:15 a.m. Sunday when Terry, a member of the Wild Mountain Hogs motorcycle club, which gave $200 to the fire department, was denied more alcohol by the bartender.
Terry, Marek said, began yelling obscenities and threw a barstool. He then walked past the table at which the firefighters sat and spoke with another member of the club. He appeared to be agitated, Marek said. Terry then picked up an empty beer bottle and flung it, just missing Marek's and his wife Roxanne's heads. The bottle hit the ceiling and shattered, with pieces of glass hitting one firefighter's legs.
Marek said he yelled 'What is your problem?' to Terry, who responded with an obscenity.
"At that point, someone said, 'don't let him leave. I called the police and they're on their way'," Marek said.
He said as he got up from the table, Terry ran for the door. Another firefighter had followed Terry, and as he got to the door, Terry slammed it in his face, Marek said.
Marek went outside, where Terry was standing by the curb. He asked Terry why he had thrown the bottle at him and his wife, and told him that it could have hit anyone in the bar. Terry and a man he was with responded with obscenities and began walking away. Marek said he again asked Terry to stay, that police were on their way. Terry kept walking, and Marek said he and another firefighter walked after him, asking him why he threw the bottle and telling him to wait for police.
Marek and the firefighter stopped about three-quarters of a block from the VFW, Marek said.
"We couldn't even see him, due to the darkness," Marek said.
He yelled to Terry to come back to explain why he threw the bottle.
At that point, Marek said, Terry "proceeded to come running out of the dark, at full pace, toward us," he said. The firefighter with him stepped in front of Marek, and Terry stopped. Marek said he again asked him why he threw the bottle, and Terry told Marek to ask the bartender.
At that point, Terry appeared calmer, so the firefighter stepped off to the side, Marek said. But Terry again became aggressive, cursed and threw a punch at Marek, who blocked it with his arm, both their arms hitting Terry in the face. Terry threw another punch, and the firefighter with Marek pushed Terry away. Terry threw a punch at the firefighter, who punched him back, Marek said.
Terry fell to the street, hitting his head, Marek said.
"At this point, we realized he was injured from his head striking the road. The rest of the guys came around, we went over to him, and quickly assessed his injuries. One of the firefighters said, because of his injuries, do you think we should let him lay in the road? I said, absolutely not. We need to get him to the side of the road. He is liable to get run over by a car," Marek said.
One person's statement to Terry's mother, that Marek said 'let him lay there, maybe he'll get hit by a car' is "totally false," Marek said.
"I said we saw he was bleeding from the head and we needed to get him to the side of the road, which is what we did. Nobody kicked him, nobody else punched him. The other three firefighters involved did not at any time lay a hand on this gentleman," Marek said. "Our intention was to slow him down until police got there."
Marek said Terry "had every opportunity in the world to just go home. He chose to come back at us. He chose, not us. We did not pursue him from that point. He came back at us."
He said that one neighbor confronted an emergency medical technician who was attending to Terry, who was taken to St. Luke's Miners Memorial Hospital, Coaldale, and then to Bethlehem.
Hospital staff on Wednesday said no information was available on Terry's condition.
Efforts to reach Police Chief Tim Delaney for an update into his investigation were unsuccessful early Wednesday.