MASSILLON -- The coincidences are many and tragic.
A hard-working custodian driving his grandson to school in his van collided with a Massillon firetruck driven by a distant cousin that was responding to a car fire.
Ronald Anderson, 72, died at the scene Tuesday morning along with Javarre Tate, 4. They were just a block from the child's school and the home of relatives.
Anderson's distant cousin, Susan Toles, was driving the ladder truck that struck Anderson's van and was one of four firefighters who suffered minor injuries in the crash.
Marva Robinson, 70, said she broke the news to Toles at Affinity Medical Center, Doctors Campus in Perry Township, where Toles, 47, was being treated. Robinson is Ronald Anderson's sister.
"When I came into the room, no one was saying anything. So I spoke up and I said, 'Sue, do you know why I'm here?' She said no. I said it was because it was Ronnie who you hit and she just fell apart," Robinson said. "It's sad. It isn't that she's hurt physically. She is hurting mentally."
Robinson and her brother, Victor Anderson, were waiting inside their Walnut Road home for Ronald Anderson to arrive after dropping off Javarre.
She heard the commotion from inside her home, about a block from where her brother died.
"Victor ran outside and he came back and said Ronnie ain't coming. I think he's dead," Robinson said.
Investigators said the fire vehicle sirens
and lights were activated. Rick Walters, a Stark County Coroner's Office investigator, said family members told him Anderson had a hearing impairment.
The State Highway Patrol is investigating the crash at Johnson Street and Walnut Road Southeast at about 8:30 a.m. The intersection is a four-way stop with signs and flashing overhead red lights.
The ladder truck struck the driver's side door of Anderson's 1996 Dodge Caravan and pushed the vehicle about 110 yards before stopping nearly a block away at 13th Street.
It is unclear if Javarre was restrained by a seat belt. No child's car seat or booster seat was found in the wreckage.
The child was thrown from the van. Passersby placed a blanket over the body as it lay in the street.
"The baby was laying up there in the street so all of us ran up there," witness Sheila McLaurin said. "But the baby was dead. It was dead."
Along with Toles, firefighters Jason Castile, 32, Ernest Bard II, 29, and Capt. Rick Annen, 53, were treated for minor injuries.
Javarre was a Head Start pupil at the Stark County Community Action Agency on Walnut Road. His mother is in prison and his father lives in Hawaii, family members said.
Anderson was a second-shift custodian worker at Washington High School in Massillon. He had been employed by the school district for about 16 years and also worked as a self-employed electrician.
Washington High School Principal Mike Babics said Anderson was "always friendly, always willing to do an extra thing for you. He was a really good guy."
Babics said that when school officials told staff members about Anderson's death, "Everybody had a story . . . [saying] 'Last night he came in and offered to do this, last night he came and offered to move this.' "
Javarre and three siblings under age 10 lived with Anderson and his wife, Cynthia, in Massillon. Cynthia Anderson came to the crash scene and was overcome with emotion, family members said. She was taken to Affinity's Doctors Campus, where she was treated for an asthma condition and released.
Massillon Fire Chief Thomas Burgasser said the firefighters were responding to a car fire in the 1200 block of Huron Road Southeast.
"At this point, it's apparent that the city of Massillon has suffered a devastating tragedy today. We lost two members of our community and four firefighters were injured," he said. "Fault is secondary."
Lt. Joel Smith of the highway patrol said an investigation could take several weeks to reconstruct the crash, including determining the ladder truck's speed, and to check its brakes and assess a cause.
Witnesses who talked to troopers said the sirens and lights were working. Others identifying themselves as witnesses told reporters they heard no sirens, but those people have not yet spoken to troopers, Smith said.
Emergency workers blocked off a portion of Walnut Road for more than five hours and kept the wreckage intact while investigators took photographs and measurements.