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2 dead, 10 hospitalized after potential drug exposure at Syracuse apartment

Mayor Ben Walsh, Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon, Police Chief Joe Cecile and Fire Chief Michael Monds address media following an incident at Brighton Towers
Ava Pukatch
Mayor Ben Walsh, Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon, Police Chief Joe Cecile and Fire Chief Michael Monds address media following an incident at Brighton Towers

Nine people were treated at Upstate University Hospital Wednesday following an exposure at an incident at Brighton Towers in Syracuse.

Upstate University Hospital closed its emergency department Wednesday from 12:45 p.m. to 3 p.m. while treating patients involved in a potential hazardous materials incident at the apartment building.

Mayor Ben Walsh said the Syracuse Fire Department was called at 10:30 a.m. for two people possibly dead in an apartment on the sixth floor. The two were confirmed dead and an additional victim who was alive was transported to St. Joseph's Hospital for an altered mental status. Syracuse Police began to investigate the two deaths and requested the fire department to return at 11:23 a.m. when some police started to become ill with symptoms like accelerated heart rate and nausea.

"Three Syracuse police officers were transported to Upstate for potential exposure, as well as one Syracuse firefighter and one AMR EMS staffer were all transported to Upstate for potential exposure," Walsh said. "Once at Upstate, an additional individual, an Upstate staff member, a nurse, also reported being impacted by a potential exposure."

All occupants of the sixth floor were evacuated as the fire department's hazmat team evaluate and determine what the substance was that led to the illnesses. Residents were allowed back into their apartments just before 6 p.m.

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said the time between contact with the unknown substance and sickness was about 30 minutes.

"I think right now my understanding is that the Hazmat team has identified a substance," McMahon said. "They have not identified what the substance is. Nothing's being ruled out, although it is certainly inconsistent with what we see with fentanyl overdoses.

The county executive shared there was a spike in xylazine overdoses over the weekend with 40 confirmed cases focused in the downtown and southwest section of the city. But he says it's unknown whether those overdoses were related to this incident.

"Overall, yet to be determined by the hazmat crew what this is," McMahon said. "Certainly we are seeing things getting cut. What were historically recreational drugs are now drugs that are a quick death sentence."

Police Chief Joe Cecile shared that the substance did not appear to be prepared for distribution, but said his team is investigating.

As of late Wednesday, everyone who was treated for exposure has been released from the hospital.

"We train for incidents like this," Fire Chief Michael Monds said. "Our job is just to support them the best we can to make sure their families are okay when they're discharged from the hospital, when these types of things occur. Even when you're well-trained and you're prepared for these types of things, things go wrong in situations like this to occur. Our job is just to provide as much support, but we ultimately rely on our training to get us through this. After this call is over, they're going to put their uniforms back on and they're going to be ready to respond to keep the citizens of the city safe."

Ava Pukatch joined the WRVO news team in September 2022. She previously reported for WCHL in Chapel Hill, NC and earned a degree in Journalism and Media from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Ava was a Stembler Scholar and a reporter and producer for the award-winning UNC Hussman broadcast Carolina Connection. In her free time, Ava enjoys theatre, coffee and cheering on Tar Heel sports. Find her on Twitter @apukatch.