5 people killed, about 60 hospitalized following ‘devastating’ crash on PA Turnpike

5 people killed, about 60 hospitalized following ‘devastating’ crash on PA Turnpike

MOUNT PLEASANT, Pa. — Five people, including a child, were killed and roughly 60 people were taken to area hospitals with injuries after a multi-vehicle crash that closed all lanes of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Sunday.

Three tractor-trailers, a tour bus and a car were involved in the crash, which was reported about 3:30 a.m. First responders called it a “mass casualty incident.”

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THE CRASH

National Transportation Safety Board officials said the tour bus had passed a FedEx tractor-trailer in the westbound left lane of the turnpike. A short time later, the driver of the bus lost control and struck the center barrier of the highway before it veered to the right across the road.

State police said the bus then went up a steep embankment and rolled over before sliding back onto the roadway, again hitting the center median.

The bus was then struck by the FedEx tractor-trailer it had previously passed. Seconds later, two UPS tractor-trailers and a car hit the overturned bus. The car became pinned between the two UPS trucks.

The crash happened on a steep descent down the mountain from Donegal. The speed limit in the area is 70 mph and there are a number of sharp curve warning signs posted. NTSB officials said the road had been resurfaced within the last year and was in good condition.

Investigators have not revealed what caused the driver of the bus to hit the center barrier, but they are reviewing camera footage from one of the trucks and data collected by an engine management system on the bus.

THE VICTIMS

Authorities said the driver of the bus and two passengers were ejected from the vehicle and died. Two UPS employees in the first UPS tractor-trailer were killed. The people in the car and the second UPS tractor-trailer were not hurt.

The Westmoreland County Coroner’s Office released the identities of the five people who were killed in the crash:

  • Shuang Qing Feng, 58 – Flushing, New York – Bus Driver
  • Eileen Zelis Aria, 35 – Bronx, New York – Bus Passenger
  • Jaremy Vazquez, 9 – Brooklyn, New York – Bus Passenger
  • Dennis L. Kehler, 48 – Lebanon, Pennsylvania – UPS Employee
  • Daniel J. Kepner, 53 – Lewistown, Pennsylvania – UPS Employee

The coroner’s office said Dr. Cyril Wecht and pathology associates were set to perform the autopsies Monday to confirm the victims’ causes of death.

NTSB officials said there were 56 passengers on the bus and one driver.

HOSPITALIZATIONS

Thirty-one people ranging in age from 7 to 52 years old were taken to Excela Frick Hospital in Mount Pleasant. Nine of those patients were under the age of 18, and hospital officials said Sunday 27 of the patients were treated and released in stable condition.

One person was transferred from Excela to UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, and three were transferred to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital. The child’s condition was listed Sunday as “good.”

Officials said Sunday 11 patients were taken to Forbes Hospital. Two of them were in critical condition. One patient was transferred to Allegheny General Hospital. The remainder of the patients at Forbes were listed in fair condition and ranged in age from 15 to 67.

Channel 11′s Amy Hudak reported Sunday that two of the patients at Forbes Hospital underwent surgery and five were discharged.

UPMC reported it received 22 patients. Eighteen were treated at UPMC Somerset and released.

COMPANIES, OFFICIALS OFFER CONDOLENCES

Officials with the Pennsylvania Turnpike issued the following statement after the crash:

UPS officials said its two employees who were killed were driving together in a tractor-trailer from Harrisburg.

Below is the statement released by UPS:

“Sadly, UPS confirms the identities of two of our drivers who are victims of this tragic incident. Daniel Kepner, age 53, had 5 years of service, and, Dennis Kehler, age 48, had 28 years of service. 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. This is all of the information available at this time.”

The family of one of the UPS employees killed, Daniel Kepner, told Channel 11 News they’re “heartbroken and shaken to the core” following the crash. He was from Lewistown, Pennsylvania.

Daniel Kepner was a UPS employee killed in a chain reaction crash on the PA Turnpike over the weekend.
Daniel Kepner was a UPS employee killed in a chain reaction crash on the PA Turnpike over the weekend. (Kepner family)

A spokesperson for FedEx sent the following statement to Channel 11 News:

“First and foremost we extend our deepest condolences to the families of the individuals involved in this accident. There is no higher priority for FedEx Ground than safety, and we are cooperating fully with investigating authorities at this time.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf also expressed his sympathies:

NTSB officials provided an update hours after the deadly crash. Watch the video below:

The bus involved in the crash was operated by a company called Z & D Tour Inc., which advertises “daily express bus service” between New York, Columbus, Cincinnati, Lexington, Louisville, Dayton, Springfield, Vandalia and Wheeling.

THE INVESTIGATION

The NTSB sent investigators to the crash scene in Mount Pleasant, between the New Stanton (MM 75) and Donegal (MM 91) exits. The stretch of highway that was closed is 86 miles long. The turnpike completely reopened around 6:20 p.m. Sunday.

NTSB investigators said the drivers of the tractor-trailers and the car were not able to stop in time before crashing.

As for the tour bus, investigators are not sure yet at what speed it was traveling. State police removed the Engine Control Module to hopefully download that information. The module provides speed and steering input among other pieces of data.

NTSB officials also said there was a camera on one of the tractor-trailers. Police had removed that as well and were hoping to get more information about the moments leading up to the crash.

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Initial reports said that weather was not a factor in the crash. Turnpike officials said there were trucks going through the area at least every hour putting down salt and aggregate. Winds were gusty at the time, however, and there may have been light sleet in the area.

At a press conference Monday, NTSB officials said the coach bus had left Flushing, New York, at 10 p.m. the night before the crash. It had stopped in Manhattan and Hackensack, New Jersey, before traveling on the Turnpike.

Investigators from the NTSB expected to be on scene examining the crash for roughly the next week. After that, they would issue an initial report with just factual information about the crash and the aftermath.

RELATED: A separate crash on I-70 had all lanes also closed near the Smithton exit Sunday morning.

It will be another 18-24 months before NTSB officials said they would have a final report on the crash.

There were no seat belts on the bus, according to NTSB officials, which may have prevented people from being ejected during the crash. As for the bus driver, it was not clear yet if he was or was not wearing one. At the national level, seat belts are not required to be in place or worn on coach buses.

NTSB investigators said they were looking at the crash in terms of national safety. State police were investigating the crash in terms of if anything criminal had happened.

RAW Chopper 11 over deadly PA Turnpike crash

THE FIRST RESPONDERS

For emergency crews who responded to the crash scene, they told Channel 11 News it was one of the worst they had ever seen.

“We’ve had major, large scale incidents, but this is probably one of the biggest patient counts we’ve had,” Capt. Scot Graham, Special Operations of Mutual Aid, said.

Watch more in the video below:

First responders call Turnpike crash one of the worst they've seen

SHIPPING IMPACT

The Turnpike is a major highway in terms of moving freight and packages across the state and across the country.

With the three tractor-trailers involved, hundreds of packages were impacted in the crash. A spokesperson for UPS said the packages will continue to their destinations for delivery. If any packages were damaged, the company would be in contact to make arrangements for replacement or reimbursement.

FedEx has not yet responded to WPXI.

Roughly 7.5 percent of the goods and materials produced, used or exported by the entire country travel through Pennsylvania, according to a 2016 report from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.