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Queens runners escape Boston race blasts

Medical workers aid injured people at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon. AP Photo/Charles Krupa
TimesLedger Newspapers

Several Queens runners had finished the marathon Monday shortly before two explosions went off at the race’s finish line in Copley Square, killing at least three people and injuring more than 180, the Boston Police Department said.

President Obama characterized the attack as an “act of terror” as the FBI and other law enforcement agencies began sifting through evidence at the scene in downtown Boston with the help of countless videos, photos and eyewitness accounts.

Long Island City resident Peter Macari, 27, had crossed the finish line about an hour before the blasts and was sitting down to eat lunch at a sports bar with family and friends when the television revealed the terrible news.

“You could definitely sense that something awful had happened,” he said. “The tone of the restaurant changed immediately, and outside all you heard were sirens.”

Macari then spent some tense moments calling and texting several friends running in the marathon and watching from the sidelines.

Fortunately, his entire crew was safe and accounted for.

An avid runner, Macari had run several marathons, but this was his first time at the Boston Marathon, which he called “the Super Bowl of marathons.”

“I was so saddened by the fact that the marathon could be tainted by this act of violence,” Macari said, vowing to return to Boston for next year’s marathon. “It might be difficult, but this is my sport. I’m not going to let this violent act get in the way of what a marathon should be.”

Astoria residents Ben Hauck and Rob Gunther described hearing loud booming sounds and instinctively thinking of a truck ramming into a raised roadway.

“If you are ever on Astoria Boulevard near the truck route, a truck will hit a bump and there is a very loud sound. This sounded like an extra large truck hit something,” Hauck said by phone from his hotel room in Boston the day of the attack.

Hauck, who was running the Boston race for the second time and has completed more than 10 marathons in total, said he heard only one of the two blasts but an unsettled feeling developed in his stomach. He glanced at several police officers on the street corner, and they also seemed alarmed by the noise.

Gunther had met up with his wife and parents and was walking near the finish line at the time of the blasts.

“We heard two booms, and my mom said, ‘Is that an explosion?’” said Gunther, who shrugged off the noise. After returning to his hotel room, he saw news about the explosions on TV.

“We have been glued to our phones ever since,” he said by phone on the ride back to New York.

Gunther, 28, who was running his seventh marathon, said he eerily thought while jammed into the packed staging area, “What if something bad were to happen?”

But both Astoria residents said the explosions would not keep them from running in future marathons.

Kew Gardens resident William Reilly, also known as Backward Bill, was uninjured in the blasts, according to a consulting company that had worked with him.

Reilly, who suffers from cerebral palsy, has competed in more than 28 marathons in his wheelchair, riding backward and pushing with his feet. According to the marathon’s website, he had not finished the race when the bombs went off.

Throughout the city this week, the NYPD ramped up a visible police presence at major transit hubs, including Grand Central and Penn stations. A terminal at LaGuardia Airport was evacuated Tuesday following reports of suspicious wiring protruding from a fluorescent light fixture, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. It turned out to be harmless and the terminal was reopened an hour later, the Port Authority said.

“We’re stepping up security at hotels and other prominent locations in the city through deployment of the NYPD’s critical response vehicles until more about the explosion is learned,” said Paul Browne, the NYPD’s chief spokesman.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said via its official Twitter feed it was beefing up the MTA police presence on Metro-North and Long Island railroad lines and confirmed that the NYPD was keeping a close watch on the city’s subways.

City Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) said the bombings in Boston illustrated the need for more police officers in New York.

“We should never have allowed our police force to reach the staffing level it has now,” he said. “We had 41,000 cops in 2001 and now we have under 35,000 and we are the safest big city, but we would be safer with more police officers.”

Hauck and Gunther said many of their friends and family have been contacting them in the aftermath to make sure they were OK.

“I seemed to have the information before most of my friends had heard the news,” Hauck wrote in an e-mail. “I texted, tweeted, e-mailed and did maybe a few phone calls.”

Gunther updated his Facebook status to alert loved ones that he was safe.

“It’s saddening and angering, it’s attacking presumably innocent people,” Hauck said.

Back home in Long Island City after hitching a ride with friends, Macari expressed sadness for the innocent people lost and maimed in the attack, while wondering what might have been had he crossed the finish line a little later.

“Just to think I ran by that very spot. I ran through that finish line,” he said. “If the timing had been different, it could have been me.”

Reach the newsroom by e-mail at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4545.

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