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Pennsylvania Turnpike

9-Year-Old NYC Girl Among 5 Dead in Pennsylvania Turnpike Crash

State police report around 60 were injured with the victims ranging from 7 to 67 years old

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What to Know

  • The bus was traveling from Rockaway, New Jersey, to Cincinnati, Ohio, at the time of the violent crash early Sunday
  • Five people, including a child and two others from New York City, were killed
  • About 60 people ranging in age from 7 to 67 were hurt, police have said

Five people were killed, three of them from New York City, and about 60 were injured on the Pennsylvania Turnpike early Sunday, when a loaded bus veered out of control on a hill and rolled over, setting off a chain reaction that involved three tractor-trailers and a passenger car.

Officials identified the five victims as Shuang Qing Feng, a 58-year-old bus driver from Flushing, Eileen Zelis Aria, a 35-year-old passenger from the Bronx, Jaremy Vazquez, a 9-year-old passenger from Brooklyn, Dennis L. Kehler, a 48-year-old UPS driver from Lebanon, Pennsylvania and Daniel J. Kepner, a 53-year-old UPS driver from Lewistown, Pennsylvania.

"Daniel Kepner, age 53, had 5 years of service, and, Dennis Kehler, age 48, had 28 years of service," a spokesperson for UPS wrote. "Both were driving together in a tractor-trailer vehicle out of our Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, operating center. Our drivers will be missed and our thoughts and prayers go out to their families."

The injured victims, ranging from 7 to 67 years old, are all expected to survive, though two patients remain in critical condition, authorities and hospital officials said Sunday afternoon. The crash, which happened at 3:40 a.m. on a mountainous and rural stretch of the interstate about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, shut down the highway in both directions for several hours before it reopened Sunday evening.

The bus was traveling from Rockaway, New Jersey, to Cincinnati, Ohio, Pennsylvania State Police spokesman Stephen Limani told reporters.

Federal investigators said Monday that the packed bus, which began its trip at 10 p.m. in Queens before stopping in Manhattan and Hackensack, passed a truck on the highway before losing control and starting the fatal chain-reaction wreck.

The bus, operated by a New Jersey-based company called Z & D Tours, was traveling in the left lane and hit the center barrier, then veered to the right across the highway, according to Pennsylvania State Police. It traveled up a steep embankment and rolled over, coming to rest on its left side before sliding back into the roadway, where it hit the median again and finally stopped in both travel lanes. Feng was thrown from the bus.

The bottom of the bus, which was on its side, was then hit by a FedEx tractor-trailer. Two passengers -- the Bronx woman and the Brooklyn girl -- were thrown from it. The UPS tractor-trailer then hit the bus, after which a Mercedes hit the side of the UPS tractor-trailer. Then another UPS tractor-trailer hit the Mercedes, which ended up between the two delivery vehicles.

The driver of the bus was about 10 miles from being subbed out by the next driver when he passed the truck, and then crashed further down the road.

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Photos from the scene show a mangled collision of multiple vehicles including the smashed FedEx truck, which left packages sprawled along the highway.

“It was kind of a chain-reaction crash," Limani said.

FedEx did not provide any other details besides that they are cooperating with authorities. A message seeking comment was left Sunday with the bus company.

An initial report about the facts should be out in about 10 days, but it could be up to two years before the 3:30 a.m. Sunday crash is fully analysed, National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy told reporters.

Homendy said she does not know if the bus was speeding, but state police have recovered an engine control module that may provide details and investigators hope another vehicle's outward-facing camera recorded relevant footage.

Lamar Brady, of Columbus, Ohio, said he was awake in a window seat on the right side of the bus and saw the crash occur. Brady told Ohio reporters that it seemed to him the bus driver was traveling too fast as the bus moved to pass a slower-moving FedEx tractor-trailer and then lost control and struck the embankment.

"I keep seeing the accident unfold in my head," Brady, 21, told The Columbus Dispatch as he rode another bus home.

“I haven't personally witnessed a crash of this magnitude in 20 years," Pennsylvania Turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo told WTAE, calling it the worst accident in his decades-long tenure with the turnpike. “It's horrible."

Excela Health Frick Hospital in Mount Pleasant said it treated 31 victims, transferring a child and three adults to other facilities.

Hospitals brought in teams of social workers and psychologists to deal with the mental trauma, said Mark Rubino, president of Forbes Hospital, which treated 11 victims.

“The people coming in were not only physically injured but they were traumatized from a mental standpoint as well," he said. Most were covered in diesel fuel when they arrived. The hospital treated fractured bones, brain bleeds, contusions, abrasions and spinal injuries.

The victims included students and people returning from visiting family in New York City. Many traveling on the bus were from outside the United States, Limani said, some of whom do not speak English and who lost their luggage and passports in the wreckage.

The Tribune-Review reported Leticia Moreta arrived at a hospital about 11:30 a.m. to pick up her children — Jorge Moreta, 24, and Melanie Moreta, 16 — who were on the bus.

She said her children, returning from visiting their father in New York, were in stable condition.

“I was devastated,” she said.

Exactly what caused the crash remains unknown, and Limani said it could take weeks or months to determine. The National Transportation Safety Board dispatched a team to investigate.

Officials said it was too early to determine if weather was a factor in the crash, but But Z&D owner Chen Dan Yu told the New York Times that weather was to blame. "It suddenly started to snow," he said.

Angela Maynard, a tractor-trailer driver from Kentucky, said the roads were wet from snow but not especially icy. Maynard was traveling eastbound on the turnpike when she came upon the crash site and called 911.

“It was horrible,” she told The Tribune-Review. She saw lots of smoke but no fire. She and her co-driver found one person trapped in their truck and another lying on the ground.

“I tried to keep him occupied, keep talking, until medical help arrived," Maynard said. “He was in bad shape. He was floating in and out of consciousness.”

The crash left families terrified and scrambling.

“I was crying,” said Omeil Ellis, whose two brothers were on the bus. “I was like crazy crying. I’m still hurt.”

Ellis, from Irvington, New Jersey, told The Tribune-Review that his brothers were traveling to Ohio for work. He was planning to meet them a few days later. But both of his brothers, one of them 39 years old and one 17, were sent to hospitals.

“I’m just weak right now,” he said.

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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