The driver of a charter bus lost control of the vehicle on the Pennsylvania Turnpike on Sunday, striking a concrete median barrier and swerving up an embankment before rolling down into traffic in an early morning crash that authorities say killed at least five people and injured 60.
The crash occurred in the turnpike’s westbound lanes around 3:30 a.m. in Mount Pleasant Township, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, said Carl DeFebo, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It prompted officials to shut down an 86-mile stretch of the turnpike between New Stanton and Breezewood in both directions.
Photos from the scene showed a mangled FedEx truck, a semi’s cab pushed partly up an embankment and an overturned Ohio Coach charter bus lying across the turnpike lanes.
On Monday, National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy said the bus, which passed a Dec. 17 inspection, carried 56 passengers. It had started its journey in Flushing, N.Y., and was headed toward New Stanton at the time of the crash. Homendy said that she didn’t know whether the bus was speeding and that the vehicle did not have seat belts.
“We have issued recommendation after recommendation to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to have lap shoulder belts on motor coaches and other vehicles," Homendy said. "Those haven’t been implemented. Yet we continue to see accidents where passengers are ejected.”
The injured ranged in age from 7 to 67. Thirty-one of them were taken to Frick Hospital in Mount Pleasant, a hospital spokesperson told The Washington Post. By midday, 27 had been treated and released in stable condition. Three adults and one child were transferred to hospitals in Pittsburgh. Nine of Frick’s patients were younger than 18.
Eleven other patients were taken to Forbes Hospital in Monroeville, which reported two patients in critical condition. Somerset Hospital in Somerset received 18 victims — 12 adults and six minors — who were all treated and released, a hospital spokeswoman said.
A UPS spokesman identified drivers Daniel Kepner, 53, and Dennis Kehler, 48, of Pennsylvania as two of the people who died. Kepner had been with the company for five years, and Kehler was a 28-year employee.
“Both were driving together in a tractor trailer vehicle out of our Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, operating center,” spokesman Matthew O’Connor said in a statement to The Post. "Our drivers will be missed and our thoughts and prayers go out to their families.”
Three New Yorkers also perished in the crash.
Nine-year-old Jaremy Vazquez of Brooklyn and Eileen Zelis Aria, 35, of the Bronx were passengers in a 2005 tour bus driven by Shuang Quing Feng, 58, of Flushing, N.Y., and died in the crash, according to the Westmoreland County Coroner’s Office.
Feng was traveling in the left lane and struck the center barrier, causing the bus to swerve to the right of the road, according to a statement tweeted by Cpl. Holly Reber-Billings. The tour bus went up a steep embankment and rolled over before stopping on its left side.
The bus slid back on the road where it hit the center median again and stopped in two travel lanes, ejecting Feng from the vehicle, according to the statement.
The bottom of the bus was struck by a FedEx truck, throwing Aria and Vazquez from the tour bus.
Kepner and Kehler’s UPS truck hit the tour bus, and a Mercedes passenger vehicle hit the side of the UPS drivers’ truck.
The Mercedes was then struck by another UPS tractor-trailer, which led to it being pinned between UPS trucks, according to authorities. The drivers of the Mercedes and the second UPS truck weren’t injured.
DeFebo said it was unclear if weather played a part but described the crash location, near Mile Marker 86 of the turnpike, as generally prone to difficult travel.
“This is the kind of the eastern slope of the Allegheny Mountains. The area around Donegal is kind of a mountainous stretch,” DeFebo said. “You’re less than 10 miles away from the steepest part of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. ”
FedEx did not confirm details about its truck driver Sunday, but FedEx spokeswoman Allie Addoms said in a statement that the company will cooperate with the investigation.
“First and foremost we extend our deepest condolences to the families of the individuals involved in this accident,” Addoms said. “There is no higher priority for FedEx Ground than safety, and we are cooperating fully with investigating authorities at this time.”
Representatives for Ohio Coach, which runs charter service between New York and Ohio, could not immediately be reached for comment.
There were no longer any detours as of late Sunday evening, according to the turnpike’s official Twitter account.
The NTSB will release a preliminary report in about 10 days, while a final report with findings and recommendations will take 18 to 24 months.