Crash On Pa. Turnpike Kills 1, Injures 10 Truck Hits Crews Attending An Accident

Posted: March 10, 1998

A volunteer firefighter was killed and 10 others injured yesterday when a braking tractor-trailer flipped on its side and plowed into a group of emergency rescue workers at an accident scene on a rain-swept Pennsylvania Turnpike, sending bodies flying and pushing the rescue vehicles more than 300 feet.

The accident occurred at 2:36 p.m. in the westbound lanes two miles west of the Downingtown interchange, after a woman's car had gone off the road and into a ditch during a heavy downpour, state police said.

The truck struck the rescuers as they were loading the woman into an ambulance.

``You'd think it was a war,'' said car salesman John Alexander of the scene strewn with personal belongings, debris and blood-covered clothes and blankets. ``I saw four bodies scattered. I walked out here and I couldn't believe some people were conscious. People were covered with mud and blood.''

Chester County Coroner Rodger Rothenberger identified the dead man as David Good, 38, a Uwchlan Township employee and five-year member of the Lionville Fire Company. He was married with two teenage sons.

Of the 10 others, seven were firefighters or rescue personnel from the Lionville Fire Company in Lionville, and two were emergency medical workers with the Uwchlan Ambulance Corps, also in Lionville, according to Bill Wohl, president of the Chester County Emergency Medical Services Council.

All of the victims, including the woman whose car went off the road, were taken to Brandywine Hospital near Coatesville, according to hospital spokeswoman Jaclyn Slaybaugh.

Slaybaugh said four were admitted to the hospital, one to the intensive-care unit and three to the trauma unit. The other six were treated and released. The car driver - who was unidentified last night - was not seriously hurt.

Wohl gave the names of the injured Lionville firefighters as Stephen Senn, Mike Cox, Pete Harmansky, Eric John, Chris Good, James Rattrie and Robert Doan. The two Uwchlan Ambulance Corps members injured were Brent Kaplan and John Wanczyk.

Senn's relatives said he was listed in critical condition in the intensive-care unit. Senn, 37, is the assistant Lionville fire chief and a 20-year veteran.

Police last night had not immediately released the name of the truck driver, whose battered rig bore no visible markings. An emergency medical technician on the scene said the driver refused medical treatment.

According to rescue personnel and witnesses, the accident occurred during a heavy, driving rain. The Lionville rescue workers, along with the Uwchlan police and ambulance crew, Upper Uwchlan police, and others, were assisting a woman whose red Pontiac had spun off the roadway and was trapped in a ditch.

To protect the rescuers, a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation truck with a large, flashing arrow on its rear was in the right-hand lane to direct the traffic into the left lane.

A dump truck driven by Senn, a landscaper, was parked on the berm behind a small red pickup truck that belonged to a passerby who had stopped to offer assistance, witnesses said. The Uwchlan ambulance was parked in front of the pickup.

Willie Cuebas, a manager at the CarSense auto dealership whose parking lot abuts the turnpike, and others said the tractor-trailer driver appeared to have locked the brakes of his truck.

Cuebas said the rig had already passed the PennDot truck when it flipped on its left side and slid sidewise down the highway, first striking Senn's dump truck. It then slammed into the red pickup and sandwiched that between the dump truck and the Uwchlan ambulance, pushing all three vehicles more than 300 feet down the road, witnesses said.

Cuebas said Senn was in his truck at the time, talking on his radio.

At that moment, rescuers were placing the woman from the Pontiac into the back of the ambulance.

``[The truck driver] locked up his wheels, and you could hear the sliding,'' Cuebas said. ``It sounded like thunder.''

``People were tossed in the air when they were hit. I went inside and prayed,'' Cuebas said.

Rescue workers used the CarSense parking lot as a triage site for the victims, some of whom were taken by helicopter to Brandywine.

Alexander, who also works at CarSense, said some of the rescue workers had gotten only a glimpse of the truck heading toward them, and they tried desperately to get out of the way.

``It was ugly,'' said Lt. David Rathbun of the Minquas Fire Company in Downingtown. ``There was just so much to do and so much going on that it was chaotic.''

The accident caused traffic to back up for miles on the westbound turnpike. Police twice had to close the lanes for about half an hour each time.

Friends and family converged at the Brandywine Hospital late yesterday to await word of the conditions of the injured. In the parking lot, volunteer firefighters directed traffic at the hospital's emergency entrance.

The accident drew a tremendous response from fire companies across the county, which relies heavily on volunteer companies.

``You can kind of compare it to a fraternity,'' said Dan Kerrigan, deputy of the Goshen Fire Company in West Goshen. ``The things that they'll do for each other are amazing.''

State police are still investigating the cause of the accident.

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