April 16, 2018BETHLEHEM—Around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, April 11, Bethlehem resident Casey Pillsbury was killed after his vehicle collided with a Lin-Wood High School bus on Route 116. A third vehicle was also damaged, without serious injury to the driver.
The bus driver and two students were brought to hospital with minor injuries, while the bus and at least one car was towed away. The Lin-Wood students had been on their way to morning classes at White Mountains Regional High School's vocational program. The road was closed for some hours while the debris was cleared and victims attended to.
Bethlehem's Fire Chief, Jack Anderson, was commanding officer on scene, and said that in his 50 years in the fire service, he has seen the worst of the worst that a hard job has to offer, and this was one of those tragic cases. He said that veteran first responders don't lose their human feelings, but they learn to set them aside on the job. Afterwards, he pays close attention to his team for signs of emotional trauma, which can be real, intense, and hard to spot.
Anderson knows just about everyone in Bethlehem, and some ways that makes his job easier. Not so when the subject of an emergency call is a friend, something he's faced more than once in his career. Regardless, he and his team have a job to do.
State Police, Littleton's Golden Cross Ambulance, Whitefield Fire Department, and all three branches of Bethlehem's emergency services, Fire, Police, and Ambulance, responded to the scene.
"It was all hands on deck," said Bethlehem firefighter Warren Bullock, who spent several hours on site. Like many of Bethlehem's part-time fire team, he got the call at his day job.
Bullock said the fire team trains to focus on the present. Indeed, a big part of their job is to react constructively and decisively in the most difficult situations. Bullock described the experience as slipping into a role, where everything is set aside except the task at hand.
"When I get on scene, I know what I have to do," he said, and added, "When that tone goes off, we're all one team."
Whitefield Elementary teacher Rosa Van Wie came upon the crash on her way to work She pulled over, got out, and went to meet the students as they stepped off the bus, which was then perched askance on the side of the highway.
She described how students stood together, talked, and comforted one another, and checked on their injured friends.
"They were so helpful and caring for each other," she said.
After Van Wie assessed the situation, and called 911 (one of several passersby to do so), she retrieved her lunch box, and handed out all the oranges and apples she had.
"I tried to make sure the students didn't go into shock," she explained.
Van Wie, who typically works with five and six year-olds, has trained for active shooter situations, but not for this. She reckoned that anyone who works with kids would have the same instinct. After, she worked a full school-day.
Known to family and friends as "Slick," 43-year-old Casey Pillsbury, who was employed by the state Department of Transportation as a Bridge Maintainer at the time of his death, was the son of Todd and Sue Pillsbury, owners of the Pillsbury Phaneuf Funeral Home in Bethlehem. His mother Sue wrote in his obituary that he had an unmatched love for life and a sarcastic — and sometimes naughty — sense of humor, which was on full display when he infamously mooned the audience from the stage during Profile High School's graduation ceremony in 1993.
Always sporting an "infectious smile," and gifted with a heart "full of compassion and kindness for anyone who crossed his path," Sue wrote of her son that he lived anything but an average life, packing more experience into his 43 years than most can into a lifetime. His only regret, in fact, seems to have been what he described as a "toxic cheeseburger" purchased from Wendy's at some point, but even that failed to dissuade him from pulling in for a Frosty whenever he caught sight of a sign sporting their pig-tailed, red-haired mascot.
Casey is survived by his son Connor, for whom a trust fund has been established in Casey's name at Littleton's Passumpsic Savings Bank where well-wishers are encouraged to donate in lieu of sending flowers. He also leaves behind the love of his life, April Dow of Littleton, and her sons Devon and Ryan, whom Sue said he treated as if they were his own; stepdaughter Kelsi Towle of Jay, Vt.; his parents; sister Kyla Pillsbury of Andover; grandmother Natalie Pillsbury of Belmont; grandfather Arthur Paula and his wife Barbara of Campton; and numerous aunts and uncles.
Calling hours will be 5 to 7 p.m. this Friday, April 20, at the Pillsbury Phaneuf Funeral Home, which is run by his parents, Todd and Sue. A funeral mass will be held Saturday, April 21 at 11 a.m. at Saint Rose of Lima Church in Littleton Saturday, April 21 followed by a gathering at Bailiwicks at noon.