Meadville Tribune

April 15, 2013

Local judge unharmed in Boston Marathon explosion

By Dan Walk
Meadville Tribune

BOSTON — “If I would have been 15 minutes slower, it would have been disastrous for my family and possibly me as well,” said Crawford County Court of Common Pleas Judge John Spataro, who was not injured in the explosions at the Boston Marathon on Monday.

Two bombs exploded in the crowded streets near the finish line of the marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 130 in a scene that raised alarms that terrorists might have struck again in the U.S.

President Barack Obama vowed that those responsible will “feel the full weight of justice.”

Spataro was running in the Boston Marathon for the third time on Monday. Upon completing the event in 15,825th place in 3:58.43, he went through a variety of checkpoints, including baggage claim, where he was picking up the items he stored at the start of the marathon.

“I’m at the baggage pickup, about 200 yards away” when the bombs went off, Spataro said via telephone on Monday. “All of us were in shock after we heard two explosions. Someone said, ‘That can’t be good. That could be a bomb.’”

The blasts took place about 10 seconds and about 100 yards apart, knocking spectators and at least one runner off their feet, shattering windows and sending plumes of smoke rising over the street. Spataro immediately thought of his family, which was meeting him near the finish line.

“For me, it was a matter of reuniting with my family,” Spataro said. “If 15 minutes made the difference, they would have been at the location of where this happened.”

Spataro quickly reached out to his family, though it was difficult to carry a conversation via cell phone due to the noise of sirens and panic. He sent his wife, Kathy, and daughters Marissa and Carly text messages saying “Call me.” Once he received a response, he was able to breathe easy.

“I’m so thankful that my family and I got through this. I feel so much sympathy for the folks who weren’t fortunate,” Spataro said. “I feel awful for the family members and the people who were injured. People should give thought and prayer to the ones who weren’t as fortunate.”

Diana Perry, one of Crawford County’s auditors and Spataro’s sister-in-law, received a text from Spataro’s daughter Carly after the incident. Carly said they were all safe and that they were a few blocks away from Spataro when the bombs went off. Had Carly, Marissa and Kathy gone down a different road while trying to meet up with Spataro, they may not have been as fortunate.

“Luckily, Carly knew the area” and took a shortcut to reach Spataro, Perry said in reference to Carly living in Boston.

The 26.2-mile marathon is one of Boston’s biggest annual events. It is held on Patriots Day, which commemorates the first battles of the American Revolution, at Concord and Lexington in 1775.

“It’s supposed to be a happy occasion,” Spataro said. “That’s the finish line. They’re so joyous. They’ve accomplished something and their family members are there to congratulate them. It’s a difficult athletic endeavor.”

The first explosion occurred on the north side of Boylston Street, just before the finish line. The bombings occurred about four hours into the race and two hours after the men’s winner crossed the line. By that point, more than 17,000 of the runners had finished the race but thousands more were still running.

County Commissioner Jack Lynch, who ran in the Boston Marathon eight times between 1981 and 1997, and who has run many marathons across the country over the years, said he was sick to his stomach after hearing of the explosions.

“I really feel terrible about this. This changes everything” in terms of how marathons are handled, Lynch said. “Everyone will have to reevaluate emergency procedures.”

The fact that it isn’t easy to qualify for the marathon makes it even more exciting to compete.

“You have to earn your way to Boston,” Lynch said. “It’s on your bucket list if you are a runner of a serious stripe. This is a destination event. It is a world event.”

Spataro, who said he has already qualified for next year’s Boston Marathon, doesn’t believe these acts will stop the event from happening next year. Due to scheduling, he’s unsure if he’ll run in next year’s marathon, but he doesn’t believe Monday’s tragedy will take away from the event at all.

“It will probably serve as a rally to prove to whoever did this, and to the world in general, that we’re resilient, good and caring people,” Spataro said. “We will definitely move on from this and we will prevail.”

Pat Bywater and The Associated Press contributed to this report.