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Blast brings shock, pride

Selflessness, bravery impress clerk of courts

Dan Dascenzo

YOUNGSTOWN — Dan Dascenzo did not hear anything. He and the Mahoning County sheriff’s deputies he was talking to only noticed that the front doors of the Mahoning County Courthouse suddenly opened part-way and slammed shut.

“There was kind of a concussion, you could feel a change in the air pressure,” he said. “One of the deputies said ‘Man, that kind of felt like an explosion.'”

Dascenzo, the Mahoning County clerk of courts, and the two deputies, Jim Mullins and Joe Hamilton, stepped outside and looked to their left, where an enormous cloud of white-gray smoke was overtaking Central Square. Within seconds, it cleared enough that they all could see the extensive damage to the Realty Building in the space that had been Chase Bank moments earlier.

The deputies broke into a sprint, Dascenzo said, leaving him standing there. Before he realized they were gone, five more deputies sprinted past him, on the heels of their colleagues.

“They all ran directly towards the scene, and Sgt. (Ron) Evans, the head of courthouse security, started giving commands to the various deputies to take posts here and there,” Dascenzo said.

From where he was standing, about 20 yards away, he could see deputies running through the rubble and directly into the bank.

This was all within 30 seconds.

Within a couple of minutes, the Youngstown Fire Department had arrived, along with other police units. Moments later, Dascenzo saw a deputy helping a man out of the building. The man — whom Dascenzo later learned was named Chuck — was bloodied and bruised, covered in dust, and clearly in a state of trauma.

Dascenzo said Chuck had a bad ankle injury but the deputy brought him clear of the building, sat him near the curb and returned to the building to look for others. Dascenzo went to check on Chuck.

“You could tell, he was coherent and talking, and even said, God bless him, he said ‘I’m OK, I’m OK, go help the others,'” Dascenzo said.

Dascenzo was concerned that Chuck had sustained a serious concussion, and recalled some of his field medic training from his days in the Army National Guard. He wanted to be sure the man was not going to pass out or slip into shock.

He put his jacket around Chuck, who was shivering, and kept him talking, until a Youngstown Fire Department paramedic named April came over to check on the man.

As Dascenzo spoke with Chuck and April, he observed a constant flow of deputies and Youngstown police and fire personnel going into the rubble of the destroyed bank space, looking for people in need of help.

“I’m thinking to myself, this building, it didn’t look very sturdy and stable, the whole corner was blown away and it looked like it was just on stilts,” he said. “And I thought, if this building falls, we’re not going to be able to get out of the way.”

April the paramedic had the same idea. So they moved Chuck across the plaza to a bench just outside OH WOW!

“But at the same time, I’m watching these police officers and deputies and firefighters just going right in, without hesitation, getting right into the fray, and doing everything they could in the moment to find survivors and get them out of harm’s way,” he said. “I was kind of in awe, watching them do that, and I was impressed and I was proud, and I just felt grateful that they were there. Watching them do what they did, and knowing the outcome now, I think it could have been a lot worse had it not been for their quick response and flat-out bravery.”

After they brought Chuck across the plaza, an ambulance pulled up quickly, and prepared to transport him to the hospital. But Dascenzo said Chuck was still thinking about someone else.

“He asked me if I could call his wife to let her know that he was OK,” he said.

Dascenzo first dialed her number and handed Chuck the phone, but Chuck was having trouble hearing.

So Dascenzo took the phone back and realized there was no answer.

He kept trying until he reached the woman’s voicemail, and left her a message.

“I was trying to explain that he’s OK or he’s going to be OK, but in the context of: there was an explosion at the building. That’s not a call people expect to get,” he said.

About a minute later, Chuck’s wife, Courtney, called back, and Dascenzo was able to explain the situation.

Dascenzo said he was struck by Chuck’s persistent concern for others.

“He was bloodied and pretty well beaten up, and he’s sitting there saying he’s OK and to go help others. And that just struck me,” he said. “Then his concern was for his wife, not what was happening to him, but that she be made aware that he was OK.”

Dascenzo said he is heartbroken for the victims, especially for Akil Drake, the 27-year-old who died in the explosion.

However, he also is left with a sense of appreciation for the way both responders and even victims showed the best of themselves in the moment.

“Taken altogether, it was pretty nerve-wracking, but at the same time, seeing everything going on all around, and how everybody conducted themselves, it made an impression on me. I’m grateful for the first responders that were there so quickly and acted so selflessly in an extremely dangerous situation,” he said.

Since Tuesday, video has since been released from the sheriff’s office, captured by the body camera of Hamilton, showing him rushing to the scene and helping Youngstown firefighters.

Hamilton helped Capt. Tommy Gibbs, who within minutes of the explosion had descended to the exposed basement and emerged with an injured woman over his shoulder.

Sheriff Jerry Greene said his deputies made him proud to be sheriff that day.

“That’s the best way you can explain it — how proud we are of the way they handled that entire situation,” he said. “A guy like Joe, the way he conducted himself, it makes me proud he’s wearing our uniform, and part of our agency, and I think he represents the men and women in blue very well.”

While some deputies stayed at the courthouse to maintain a security presence there, at least 30 of Greene’s deputies were on scene at the Realty Tower.

Greene said deputies created a perimeter, blocking off roads and stopping citizens from getting too close to the danger. The sheriff’s office also helped by deploying a mini drone, especially in the basement, to give firefighters an understanding of what they were looking at before they went back down.

“A lot of times, you don’t know how you’re gonna act or react, and when you see a situation like that happen, you’re just really proud of everyone’s response,” Greene said. He added that he was very grateful for mutual aid support.

“All the agencies, and neighboring agencies, it’s just one of those situations that makes you appreciative because you know you have the support when you need it,” he said.

Have an interesting story? Contact Dan Pompili by email at dpompili@vindy.com. Follow us on X, formerly Twitter, @TribToday.

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