Texas City firefighter dies in wreck, two others injured .

By Monique Hitchings
The Galveston County Daily News Published October 06, 1999 12:04 AM CDT

TEXAS CITY -- Fire Capt. William Bethune died and two firefighters were injured when their fire truck collided with a Mercury Cougar on Tuesday. Bethune, 58, was thrown through the front windshield of the truck as it collided with the car. The truck then slammed into a concrete column at the underpass at Johnny Palmer Road and FM 1764. The accident occurred about 9:45 a.m.

Bethune was taken by helicopter ambulance to the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. He was pronounced dead about 10:35 a.m., said a hospital spokesperson. "Bill was a fun-loving person. He loved life and lived his life to the fullest,"

Fire Chief Gerald Grimm said. Firefighter Craig Peterson, 37, was driving the 18,000-pound truck from Station No. 3 near College of the Mainland. The truck was headed north on Johnny Palmer Road to Mall of the Mainland, responding to a report of a person having difficulty breathing, police said. Peterson, who reportedly was wearing his seatbelt, was in critical condition

Tuesday night. Firefighter William Fattig, 33, was treated for injuries and released, according to a hospital spokesperson. Michael Wayne Johnson, 32, who was driving the Mercury, was cut on his hands, said Tom Vinger, public information officer for the Department of Public Safety in Austin. According to witness reports, the fire truck's sirens and flashing lights were in use, state Trooper F. Goodwin said. Johnson told police he had a green light and that he heard the truck's sirens and saw the flashing lights, but he thought he had time to cross in front of the emergency vehicle, Goodwin said.

While the investigation is continuing, Johnson had not been given a traffic citation. Sondra Campbell was waiting for a fast-food restaurant across the street to open when she heard the sirens. "I peeped and saw the fire truck and the car, and then I heard the loud crash," Campbell said. "I saw the fire truck swerve and bounce trying not to hit the white car. ... "While the truck was swerving to miss hitting the car, it hit the pillar under the freeway. "It was a very sad thing to witness."

Police on Tuesday night were reviewing witness reports and were unable to confirm whether Johnson had a green light. The demolished fire truck cost $350,000 and, at about 4 years old, reportedly was the newest truck in the fleet. Daily News reporters Alicia Gooden and Scott E. Williams and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Fallen firefighter was 'a good man' .

By Alicia Gooden
The Daily News Published October 06, 1999 12:05 AM CDT

TEXAS CITY -- In less than one month, Bill Bethune would have celebrated his 25th year as a firefighter with the Texas City fire department. Tuesday morning the fire captain was killed in a wreck en route to an emergency call.

For the people who worked with him and for the family members he left behind, Bethune set a good example for everyone he came in contact with. "He was a good man," said his 26-year-old daughter, Dana Argo. "He was a strict family man. His family always came first. Since forever."

Argo said she received the news of her father's death around 11 a.m. while she was attending nursing school. "I don't really know what to say," she said. For a community already steeped in explosive tragedies, news of Bethune's death spread quickly across the county and the state.

La Marque Fire Chief Robert Buckner said he listened to the details of the accident over a radio scanner in disbelief. "This wasn't someone I read about or just heard about over the radio," he said. "I knew this man. He was a heck of a nice guy." Buckner said he met Bethune when he joined the La Marque fire department about 20 years ago. "Because we're neighboring fire departments, we would sometimes see each other on calls," he said. "This is a terrible tragedy, no matter if you're a volunteer firefighter or full time."

Texas City Mayor Chuck Doyle, who was out of town when the accident happened, said he and Bethune worked for the city at the same time. He said Bethune's straightforward nature is one of the things he remembers the most. "He was very direct," he said. "This community is covered in grief." Doyle said the tragedy of Bethune's death will have great impact because it marks the first firefighter to fall in the line of duty since 1968, 31 years ago.

Doyle said only two firefighters have been killed since the 1947 explosion of the French freighter Grandcamp, which destroyed most of the city and wiped out the entire volunteer fire department. "This is the sort of thing that rarely happens," Doyle said. "Since the explosion, the city itself and all the personnel have become a close-knit family."

Argo said her family would be meeting with Emken-Linton funeral home today to make funeral arrangements