From left, Dr. James Kenny, associate chairman of Emergency Medicine at Staten Island University Hospital; Dr. Brahim Ardolic, chairman of Emergency Medicine at SIUH and SIUH President and CEO Anthony C. Ferreri talk to the media about the loss of paramedic David Restuccio.
By KIAWANA RICH and JOHN ANNESE
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Joseph Demorato arrived at the scene of Monday night's horrific accident on Hylan Boulevard to treat an injured paramedic -- and saw the face of David Restuccio, a friend of 25 years, looking up at him.
"It was not easy," a heartbroken Demorato told the Advance Tuesday afternoon through his tears. "But you had to focus and do what you have to do."
Despite the efforts of Demorato and the many others who strove mightily to save him, the 58-year-old Restuccio, of Meiers Corners, died after a BMW sport utility vehicle slammed into his ambulance, flipping it and pinning him inside. The driver of the BMW, 20-year-old Benjamin Budzaku of Huguenot, also died.
Demorato recalled his friend as "a true gentleman in a real sense of the word" who had the knack of placing his "short sausage hands on your shoulders to calm you down."
The loss of Restuccio devastated the University Hospital community.
"He was the mayor of the hospital," said Demorato's wife, Charlene Demorato, an emergency medical technician. "He had an innate ability to make friends, to become part of the crowd no matter where he went."
The news of Restuccio's tragic death drew at least 150 people to the hospital Tuesday -- first responders, hospital staffers and representatives of every ambulance service on Staten Island.
James Kenny, associate chairman of the Emergency Department, described Restuccio, who had retired from the FDNY, as "a skilled and experienced paramedic [who] had an unflappable nature that set his patients at ease."
Because he was so invested in people, Restuccio had an uncanny ability to remember folks' names and their family members' names, noted David Roshetari, director of safety.
"He was a genuinely good guy. He will be absolutely missed."
Restuccio didn't talk much about 9/11, but for two months he fulfilled a solemn duty, working in the morgue to separate the victims' remains from the debris of the World Trade Center.
"He chose that particular assignment," recalled his close friend and fellow retired FDNY EMS Lt. Mark Kusick, 55. "To him, it was important that the remains be treated with the utmost dignity and respect. ... He saw that as a really important job."
Kusick was among the close friends and neighbors who gathered outside Restuccio's Sheraden Avenue home to recall him as a caring father and grandfather, one whose future was rosy: His fiancée of several months, Dr. Lorraine Giordano, was the longtime EMS medical director and more recently served as an emergency medical physician for the FDNY.
Michael Hagai, 31, Restuccio's downstairs tenant and longtime friend, said Restuccio proposed during a trip to the Caribbean.
"It was only four or five months ago," Hagai said. "He was so happy about that."
On Tuesday, Hagai and Kusick were trying to reach out to Dr. Giordano -- she was vacationing with her daughters in Italy, and it's not clear whether she knew of the crash.
The two-vehicle wreck happened just after 7 p.m., near Hylan's intersection with Seacrest Avenue in Eltingville.
Witnesses told the Advance that Budzaku was bound north on Hylan when he lost control of his SUV and it jumped the median. The ambulance, which was transporting a patient from the Ocean Breeze campus of University Hospital to its Prince's Bay site, was traveling south.
The ambulance swerved out of the way but couldn't avoid the collision, and the impact flipped the emergency vehicle on its side and launched Budzaku from the BMW.
Budzaku was pronounced dead on the scene, while Restuccio remained trapped inside the totaled ambulance. He died of massive internal injuries after being taken to the hospital, a source familiar with the investigation said.
Police are still investigating why Budzaku lost control, though one law enforcement source said he was "definitely speeding" at the time of the crash.
Two others survived the crash -- the ambulance patient, Luis Rodriguez, 34, and a second paramedic, Yusuke Yonehara, also 34. Rodriguez is in SIUH's intensive care unit listed in fair condition, while Yonehara is listed in stable condition, said Christian Preston, a hospital spokesman.
Kusick said he last saw Restuccio on Saturday -- the two saw the film "The Bourne Legacy" -- and had a text conversation just a few hours before the crash about dog-sitting.
"I can't help but think of the irony, to be honest ... that he lost his life in the ambulance that he spent so much time in,' Kusick said, noting that Restuccio had remained a decertified paramedic even after his retirement in 2006.
When Restuccio retired from the FDNY, he spent time with his children and grandchildren camping and skiing, but the lure of his former profession proved too much for him, Hagai said.
"I guess when he retired he realized how much he loved it," Hagai said.
Restuccio was an avid skier, his friends recalled, and though diabetes would later prevent his hitting the slopes, he would still go camping with his adult sons, Matthew and David.
Hagai remembered Restuccio's flair for telling long, detailed stories about the events in his life, and described how he kept a recreational vehicle outside the house. "It had every sticker from every state. The guy was really good at that," Hagai said.
Longtime neighbor Bernice Halpern, 78, described Restuccio as an "original" member of the neighborhood, a doting grandfather and a caring presence on the block.
"It's not going to be the same," she said.
Advance staff writer Tracey Porpora contributed to this report.