SOMERSET COUNTY, Pa. - Authorities have identified the two young sisters who were killed in a tragic and “freak” accident in Somerset County Monday.
Officials said a tree snapped at its roots along Tire Hill Road in Conemaugh Township, Somerset County, landing on a car. The impact from the tree forced the driver, 36-year-old Jason Hinebaugh, to lose control, causing the car to then crash into a nearby telephone pole.
Hinebaugh, a pregnant woman and four young children were inside the car at the time. Two of the children were killed.
Investigators identified the children killed in the crash as 8-year-old Ryleigh Freiwald and 6-year-old Macayla Freiwald. Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller said the two girls died of blunt-force trauma to the head.
Conemaugh Township Police chief Louis Barclay said the mother of the children, 26-year-old Ashley Lichty, and Hinebaugh are in the intensive care unit at a nearby hospital.
Ciara Freiwald, 5, and Lillie Freiwald, 3, are being treated at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown, Barclay said.
Lichty, who is eight months pregnant, is still carrying the child, Barclay said.
“She got out of the vehicle,” he said. “The (driver) was unconscious behind the wheel.”
People who were nearby at the time of the accident said they tried to free the family while emergency responders were on their way.
“I walked up on the back side of the car and she kept saying, ‘get my children, get my children out.’ I had attempted to see if I could help, but it was a little more involved than what I’m able to do,” said witness Nina Overman.
Paramedic Adam Trabold of Conemaugh Township EMS said he arrived on the scene and was later joined by two off-duty paramedics who responded.
“After I arrived on the scene, it was uncontrolled chaos,” Trabold said. “We were trying to get everything done. Once you get more resources, you're able to focus on one patient at a time. I tried to treat each patient as (my) family member.”
“Because children were involved, it makes it more stressful. We've seen more fatalities in a single crash. But when kids are involved, that changes the game,” said Terry Ruparcic, who manages the EMS station.
Trabold said losing children is emotionally difficult.
“In the 10 years I've been here, this is a 9 out of a 10 on a scale,” he said.
The paramedics were debriefed by mental health counselors after the accident.
Barclay said a state police team was reconstructing how the accident happened.
“I took a look at the base of the tree and it appeared to be dry rot,” the chief said.
Two police detectives were interviewing Lichty and Himebaugh at the hospital. The two injured children are expected to be released from the hospital Tuesday, Barclay said. He said they were outside the car with their mother when police arrived.
Hinebaugh has been dating Lichty for about 18 months and is about eight months pregnant with his child, said his friend, Dan Gorgone, a professional disc jockey in the Johstown suburb of Richland.
“It's been hard,” Gorgone said of the news that the children had died and his two friends are hospitalized.
Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE contributed to this report.