UPDATE: Tri-City marathon runners describe the chaos from explosions

Tri-City HeraldApril 15, 2013 

Tri-City area runners and their families were thankful for their safety after explosions rocked Monday’s Boston Marathon, leaving three people dead and dozens injured.

Kennewick’s Doug Brown, 61, said he finished the race about 20 minutes before the first bomb went off. And there were a number of Tri-Citians who finished within 10 minutes of each other.

Area runners, according to the marathon’s website, included Susan Brain, Darris Griffith and Suzy Waters of Kennewick; Judy Bell, Ellie Hedel, Stephen Mazurkiewicz and Maron Wang of Richland; Miranda Bachman of Pasco; Hope Fox of West Richland; Shir Regev of Benton City; Gary Rittenbach of Walla Walla; Doris Matson and Ryan Maxwell of Sunnyside; Curtis Grant of Othello; and Diane Newton of College Place.

“I know Hope and Miranda finished ahead of the bombs going off,” Brown said. “Shir, she finished two minutes behind me.”

And Brown’s running partner, Richland’s Maron Wang, finished seven minutes behind him.

After the race, “Maron and I moved farther from the finish line talking,” said Brown. “I looked up Boylston Street and I saw and felt the blast. It was pretty traumatizing.”

Wang said they were no farther than 200 yards from the blast.

“I heard it and turned around and saw a lot of smoke coming out,” said Wang. “I didn’t think it was real. I thought there was a mechanical function problem in that building with the smoke.”

Within minutes, the area was filled with ambulances, firetrucks and police cars.

“I never saw that number of emergency vehicles at one time,” said Brown. “At one point I saw a stream of black SUVs loaded with what looked like SWAT team members. They were clearly ready to do battle.”

No one at the finish line had any idea what was going on.

“We didn’t know,” said Wang. “It sounded like a terrorist attack because of the smoke and explosions. They evacuated us to the media area.”

Because public transportation was shut down, Brown said it took him four hours to get back to his hotel.

“There was a lot of confusion because everybody wanted to know what happened and nobody did,” Brown said. “I didn’t really know what happened until I got back to my hotel.”

Wang said the Tri-City contingent checked with each other and everybody was OK.

That included Brain, 69, who was still on the course when the race was shut down.

She was at the 25.4-mile area on Beacon Street at the time the bombs went off — just .8 of a mile to the finish line.

“My friend was closer to the finish line than I was, and all of a sudden all the people stopped running,” Brain said. We were getting indications that the marathon was shut down.”

Brain was in a residential area of Boston, and many of the runners were told to stay put. People who were local competitors decided to leave and go home, but the out-of-town runners like Brain had their clothes and hotel room keys in bags waiting for them at the finish line.

So she and others just hung out on the street for an hour.

“It wasn’t long after that that spectators and people came out of their houses with water for us,” said Brain. “Other folks came out with garbage bags because we were getting cold. Let me tell you, a garbage bag can be pretty attractive when you’re cold.”

Brain said she had her cell phone with her, and while the heavy volume of calls made it impossible to call anyone, she and her running partners could contact each via text messages.

Boston Marathon officials drove out on the course on ATVs and brought runners blankets, she said. “There was one volunteer standing on the corner letting people borrow his cell phone,” Brain said. Officials grabbed runners’ bags of clothing and room keys, put them on a bus to a new location for pickup. But police intervened.

“The police were all there and yelled that we needed to clear out,” Brain said. “They didn’t want anybody together in a group.”

Eventually, Brain got her bag and made it to her hotel out in the suburbs.

“My son and I were not doing the pace in the marathon that we anticipated,” Brain said.

If they had, they may have been closer to the bombs.

And she’s OK with not getting to finish.

“I did Boston once previously in 2009, and I got to go across the finish line,” she said. “I’ve run 23 marathons, and I’ve never not finished one. Now I have. And that’s OK.”

Shir Regev of Benton City said she finished the race five minutes before the explosions. But she quickly left the area to change clothes.

“I heard the two explosions,” she said. “People started running in opposite directions. It’s kind of like what you see in the movies.”

Regev then made it her goal to get out of the center city and find her way back to her hotel near Logan Airport. Eventually, she found an operating subway station.

“A lot of people were confused,” she said.

Rev. David Parker, lead pastor at Central United Protestant Church in Richland, said he was speaking on the phone with his daughter Caitlin, a 2009 Richland High School graduate, when the bombs exploded. He became worried when their call was disconnected.

“We weren’t on the phone more than 30 seconds or a minute when there was a lot of confusion on the line,” he said.

He said his daughter, a 22-year-old student at Multnomah University in Portland, called him back and let him know she was OK a couple minutes later.

“She was deeply stunned,” he said. “We’ve been stunned watching the television today. We were greatly relieved for our daughter, but sad for the other families.”

David Parker said he received phone calls all day from people wanting to know if his daughter was OK. “Terrorism takes on a very personal face when it involves someone you know and love,” he said.

Regev, 39, ran her first marathon in high school and has completed 27 over the years, with Monday’s event her third Boston Marathon. She said the only thing that could deter her from running a fourth would be having to requalify — not the threat of violence.

“I want to go back partly to show my support and not let the bad guys win,” she said.

Ryan Maxwell, principal at Sunnyside High School, said he left downtown Boston less than a half hour before two bombs went off. His wife and 12-year-old son had been visiting a marathon store near one of the explosion sites a short time before that.

“I’m just concerned that this happened today in Boston,” said Maxwell, who was running his first Boston Marathon after working toward the goal for seven years. “It ruined a good event.”

Maxwell spoke by phone from a Westin Hotel not far from the finish line just as news broke of a possible third explosion at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. No one was injured, but it raised concerns for those in other parts of the city.

“The police chief is telling everybody to stay inside their hotel,” he said.

In a Facebook post, Mazurkiewicz said he was safe and back at his hotel.

“It happened right after we left,” he wrote. “There are emergency vehicles everywhere. Prayers go out to those impacted by this horrible event.”

A co-worker of Waters at Toyota of Tri-Cities said she had notified people there that she was OK. “Our general manager got a text message from her,” Jennifer Harrington said.

Kaylee Brooks of Kennewick was registered for the marathon but chose not to go to attend a mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

-- Jeff Morrow: 582-1507; jmorrow@tricityherald.com; Geoff Folsom: 582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com

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