A college hockey star broke this woman's wheelchair after hurling it down the stairs. Now she's speaking out: ‘We deserve to be treated with respect.’
Sydney Benes, a 22-year-old Slippery Rock University student in Slippery Rock, Penn., is normally a private person. But now she's found herself at the center of a story involving Mercyhurst University hockey player Carson Briere (the son of Philadelphia Flyers General Manager Daniel Briere), who was caught on camera breaking her wheelchair when he pushed it down a flight of stairs at a local bar.
Benes, a double amputee who lost both her legs in an August 2021 car accident, says she's speaking out in hopes that her experience can be a catalyst for change.
“There's gonna be some crappy people in the world,” she tells Yahoo Life. “But there's usually a lot more good people, if you give them the chance to be.”
The incident occurred on March 11 at Sullivan’s Pub, a local bar where Benes is a regular patron. Since losing her legs, she's relied on the kindness of bar staff — particularly Nate Sanders, the pub's security manager — to carry her downstairs when she needs to use the restroom. Because the building was built in the late-1800s, Sanders admits it isn't exactly wheelchair accessible, which is why the only restroom is located on the basement level.
"When she has to use the bathroom, she'll usually either text me or grab one of my security guys,” Sanders tells Yahoo Life. "Everyone is happy to do it, we're all good friends with Sydney."
“I accept the responsibility of going to a place that I'm fully aware doesn't have facilities on the ground floor," Benes stresses. "Since I've worked stuff out with the staff, I don't have an issue with continuing to go back, because this is one of my favorite bars."
Hi im Sydney and it was my chair that was pushed down the stairs. I’m so thankful for all of Sullivan’s help in this situation and the kind comments I see on Julia’s post. I swear I really don’t wanna keep a cent of the donated money, I’d much rather give it to those who need it. pic.twitter.com/1I5q05jdeO
— Sydney (@_legless_wonder) March 16, 2023
On this particular night, Sanders had carried Benes downstairs to use the restroom, after placing her wheelchair at the top of the steps like he normally does. When they returned, Benes found her chair lopsided at the bottom of the staircase. It had noticeable damage to the brake, the armrest and the frame, all of which were either "bent or broken" in some way, she notes. The sight of it left her in shock.
“My chair is the way I get around. It’s my legs." she explains. “I was hoping it was just an accident and that somebody maybe drunkenly bumped it or something."
What actually happened was far worse: Security cameras show Briere, 23, and another male companion, Mercyhurst lacrosse player Patrick Carrozzi, 21, at the top of the steps playing with the wheelchair.
At one point, Briere is seen sitting in the chair and fiddling with its devices before physically pushing it down the stairs. He and Carrozzi are seen watching the chair fall to the bottom before walking to the bar.
After seeing the footage, Sanders was quickly able to identify the young men. He says he forced them to apologize to Benes, which she describes as being “quite insincere,” before escorting them out of the bar and banning them from coming back.
The bar's manager, Julia Zukowski, later shared the security footage on Twitter (with Benes' permission), calling out Briere by name.
I usually don’t post anything serious on my twitter but something happened Saturday night and just can’t stomach the thought of this kid getting away with it. In the video below is a @MercyhurstU student and is currently on the @HurstMensHockey team. Carson Briere. pic.twitter.com/kWWlEYEc7V
— julia (@juliazukowski) March 14, 2023
"I usually don’t post anything serious on my twitter but something happened Saturday night and just can’t stomach the thought of this kid getting away with it," Zukowskit tweeted alongside the footage. "In the video below is a @MercyhurstU student and is currently on the @HurstMensHockey team. Carson Briere."
Word of Zukowski's tweet made it to Mercyhurst, which suspended both athletes from their hockey and lacrosse teams, respectively, because of the incident. The university followed up with a statement as well, saying that Briere's actions fall short of the school’s “belief in the inherent dignity of each person."
Soon after that, Briere apologized in a statement released through the Philadelphia Flyers: "I am deeply sorry for my behavior on Saturday," he said at the time. "There is no excuse for my actions, and I will do whatever I can to make up for this serious lack of judgment."
Things took another turn on Monday, when Briere and Carrozzi were slapped with three misdemeanor charges — of criminal mischief, criminal conspiracy to commit mischief and disorderly conduct — by the Erie police, according to court documents.
The two are scheduled to appear in court on May 22.
Since a lot of you guys are asking how to help in anyway here is a gofundme towards raising money for a new wheelchair! https://t.co/d2uEmmdat5
— julia (@juliazukowski) March 15, 2023
Meanwhile, a GoFundMe page has been created by the staff at Sullivan's Pub to help Benes repair her broken chair, which she bought for $2,000 in 2021. To date, nearly $9,000 has been raised towards those efforts.
Benes initially wanted to remain anonymous, but once she saw how much attention the story was getting (and the "outpouring" of support), she says she felt a responsibility to give a face to the broken chair, to stand in solidarity with people in the disabled community who don't always have a voice.
"Hi im Sydney and it was my chair that was pushed down the stairs," she wrote alongside a photo of herself and Sanders at the top of the stairs where the chair was pushed. "I’m so thankful for all of Sullivan’s help in this situation and the kind comments I see on Julia’s post."
I would like to clarify that I’m using the GoFundMe donations to help fix my chair but all the rest is going to the disabled community and to people who really need the help ❤️
— Sydney (@_legless_wonder) March 16, 2023
Benes says all she wants to do is help the people who helped her.
"I'm using the GoFundMe donations to help fix my chair but all the rest is going to the disabled community and to people who really need the help," she said on Twitter. That includes donating to the Slippery Rock Fire Department, which saved her life in the 2021 car crash, she tells Yahoo Life.
Above all, Benes says she doesn't want readers to think of her as a victim. Instead, she wants them to "think twice" before making assumptions about people with disabilities.
"We're people, too," she says. "We deserve to be treated with respect. And our things deserve to be treated with just as much respect."
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