A massive pile-up in Pennsylvania on Sunday, January 5, 2020, caused a section of the Pennsylvania turnpike in the Mount Pleasant Township to be closed in both directions for 12 hours. The pile-up was reported to have involved a tour bus, 3 tractor-trailers, and a passenger car. Five people were killed and at least 60 people were injured, authorities reported. The bus was heading from Chinatown in New York City to Cincinnati, Ohio.
The crash was reported to have occurred around 3:34 am when a tour bus headed to Cincinnati from New Jersey failed to negotiate a corner while traveling on a downhill grade, according to authorities. The tour bus was reported to have gone up the embankment and flipped over, per Pennsylvania Trooper and spokesman Stephen Limani. The overturned bus was then struck by two tractor-trailers, who were hit themselves by a third tractor-trailer.
Nearly 60 people injured and five dead among the victims
UPS reported that two of their drivers, Daniel Kepner, 53, and Dennis Kehler, 48, were among the deceased on Sunday morning. Kepner had worked at the company for 5 years and Kehler had been with the company for 28 years. “Our drivers will be missed, and our thoughts and prayers go out to their families”, UPS stated in a public statement. FedEx has also stated their tractor-trailer was one of the ones involved, however, they have not reported any fatalities. “There is no higher priority for FedEx Ground than safety, and we are cooperating fully with investigating authorities at this time”, said a spokesperson for FedEx in a statement. At around 10 pm Sunday, the names of the other three victims were released. Among the deceased were the tour bus driver Shuang Qing Feng, 58, and bus passengers Eilleen Zelis Aria, 35, from Bronx, and 9-year-old Jaremy Vazquez from Brooklyn.
First responders rushed to the gruesome scene to treat nearly 60 other people injured in the chain-reaction crash, and assisted in transporting all of them to three area hospitals, Pennsylvania Turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo said. Twenty-five patients were treated at Excela Frick Hospital, ranging from ages 7-52, including nine children. Eleven patients were being treated at Forbes Hospital in Monroeville, a Pittsburgh suburb – 2 were in critical condition, seven had already been discharged by Monday, and the remaining three were in fair condition, according to a spokesperson for Allegheny Health Network. Eighteen others, including six children, were being treated at UPMC Somerset but at the time of this report, all had been released.
A major complication that quickly came to light was that many of the victims, especially the passengers on the tour bus, were from many different countries. The Red Cross and other like organizations were called in to assist with the “different problems that come into play” such as interpreting, finding housing, and helping families relocate or find accommodations. For many of the victims, clean clothing was a major issue as the majority of the luggage and belongings on the tour bus had been destroyed due to the crash. According to Forbes Hospital president, Dr. Mark Rubino, “when the bus turned over, a lot of them had all their clothing and their personal belongings contaminated by diesel.” Forbes Hospital also brought in translators as well as social workers and psychologists to assist the victims and their families.
NTSB Investigation Ongoing
The National Transportation Safety Board team was on scene to begin their investigation on Sunday. According to NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy, the investigation will at least initially focus on roadway design, driver performance, survival factors, and motor carrier compliance. “It can take anywhere between 12 and 24 months for the NTSB to get to the stage of a final report where we have findings of our probable cause and our recommendation,” Homendy stated to reporters on Sunday evening. “Our role on scene is to document the crash site, document the vehicles involved in the crash and then collect perishable evidence.” Chief operating officer of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, Craig Shuey, stated that the particular section of the turnpike gets ample snow and crews had been applying salt and cinder to the roadway since Saturday night. However, Pennsylvania Turnpike spokeswoman Renne Colborn said that the road conditions seemed to be “fine” and that the roads are treated 24/7.
This is not the first time the turnpike has seen a major pile-up crash such as the one that occurred last Sunday morning. In February 2014, 100 vehicles were involved in a wreck just north of Philadelphia on that same turnpike. In that wreck, at least 30 people were injured.
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