Two Bay Village residents count their blessings after Dover Gardens tragedy

Jon Masterson, left, and Dan Busch, right, sit in the same seats they were in when the accident happened in October 2014. Photo by Nathan Conover.

Many of us have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season. This sentiment especially applies to Dan Busch and Jon Masterson, both Bay High grads; '94 and '93 respectively. Their lives were changed on the night of Oct. 23, 2014; a night that they will never forget. 

It was a typical Thursday night for Dan and Jon. They met at The Dover Gardens Tavern, just west of Dover Center road in Westlake, for a quick beer and dinner. The NFL Thursday night game was on TV with the Broncos playing the Chargers and Dan had just returned to his seat at the middle of the bar when a white pickup truck came crashing through the patio and into the tavern. 

"I remember hearing squealing brakes," Dan said. 

"I remember hearing someone yell," said Jon. 

The driver, Brandon Pawlak, then 26 years old, led police on a high-speed chase and smashed the stolen truck into the bar; seriously injuring Dan, Jon and 11 others. The truck pinned Dan and Jon to the bar and continued to move the bar until it met the back wall. 

Both Dan and Jon recount an eerie silence and immediate dark after the crash; the smell of burning and soot in the air. Their immediate thoughts went to everyone else in the bar. "I thought someone was under the truck," Jon said. But no one was. Their first order of business was to get themselves out from between the truck and the bar and to safety. Jon helped Dan squeeze out and got him up onto the collapsed bar. As he was helping him walk, Jon was shocked while grabbing a broken light fixture. Like everyone else, getting outside was crucial for fear of the truck exploding. 

"It was a matter of survival," Jon said. 

Outside, emergency responders had set up a triage. Firefighters placed the injured in patio chairs, giving them ribbons to show the severity of their wounds. Dan was seated in one of these chairs. He could no longer stand because he was spitting up blood. "This guy's gotta go!" the EMS said of Dan and he would be the first to go to the hospital. 

"Am I gonna die?" Dan remembers asking on the way. 

He was sent to MetroHealth where they found that he had broken ribs as well as his scapula or shoulder blade. This is one of the hardest bones in the body to break; a grim testimony to the velocity at which the truck crashed into the bar. Dan would remain at MetroHealth for weeks. To this day Dan still has back and neck soreness. 

Jon's injuries were even more extensive and more severe. Though he was walking around trying to make heads or tails of the accident, Jon was walking on a broken leg. But that was not the worst of his injuries. These were discovered when he was taken to Fairview Hospital. 

"They had to remove my spleen and I had a ruptured bladder," Jon said. "It was very scary because all that the doctors would say is, 'We're gonna do our best'."

Jon's spleen was successfully removed and his bladder repaired. He now has a scar down the length of his torso as a reminder of that night; but also as a reminder of how incredibly lucky he is. 

"We both feel extemely lucky," Dan said. 

Dover Gardens Tavern reopened in November in spite of speculation as to whether it actually would. Dan and Jon went back opening night to "finish the night off."

"It was hard being there at first," Jon said. "But they gave us a free round, so that helped."

"Yea," Dan laughed, "I just went back for the free beer!" 

The two can now laugh as both know how truly blessed they are. 

Nathan Conover

I am an aspiring writer from right here in Bay Village!

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Volume 7, Issue 24, Posted 9:39 AM, 12.15.2015