WHITAKER, PA — A small business owner is speaking out against dangerous crashes becoming all too common on his property.
“This can’t keep going on; someone is going to be killed, probably one of us,” said Bob Ackerman, owner of Bob’s Autotorium, a gas station and convenience store in Whitaker.
Ackerman told Channel 11 that nine major accidents have happened at the business in the last six years, located on Route 837, across from the Rankin Bridge.
Around 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, surveillance video captured a horrific incident where a vehicle flew by a customer and crash-landed, striking three customer vehicles. One person was inside one of those vehicles and went to the hospital, Ackerman said.
“It sounded like a train wreck to me,” he said. “I’ve heard the noise before.”
Less than two weeks prior, Ackerman’s surveillance camera captured another vehicle crash into a wall, just feet from his gas pumps. In that case, three people inside of the car went to the hospital, he said.
Ackerman said in one past incident, a driver hit a pole and sent it into the business. In another, a driver crashed directly into the shop.
“The bridge is marked at 25 mph, and I guarantee you, you can’t find a car going 25 mph on that bridge, and we need to control the speed on the bridge,” he said. “We’ve asked for rumble strips, we’ve asked for different signage, and we asked for one of those signs that say how fast you’re going. Nothing has been done.”
Ackerman said he’d been dropped by insurance companies twice because of incidents and fears he may be dropped once again.
He said he’s reached out to state and county leaders for help.
“I certainly sympathize with the owner of Bob’s Autotorium,” State Representative Austin Davis told Channel 11.
Davis has visited the property but said that because the bridge is county-owned, his hands are tied.
“I did reach out to the county Public Works director back in 2019 on the business owner’s behalf, for them to look into the issue, but unfortunately I just don’t have the power to address the issue that he’s, unfortunately, dealing with,” Davis told us.
We reached out to the county as well.
We received the following statement from Public Works Director Stephen Shanley:
“There have been numerous crashes at this intersection over the years. A couple of years ago, in response to concerns, Public Works installed an additional speed limit sign and an advance intersection warning sign.
We are aware of the most recent crash that took place yesterday. Allegheny County owns the bridge, PennDOT is responsible for River Road (Route 837) at the end of the bridge, and Whitaker Borough is responsible for the traffic lights in the area. The three entities are communicating about the crash and will collaborate on any solutions to improve public safety at the site.”— Stephen Shanley
Ackerman said he has reached out to county council members as well. We contacted the chief of staff for comment.
In response, we received a statement on behalf of Councilman Paul Zavarella, reading in part:
“Being that the Department of Public Works is under the jurisdiction of the Executive, and being the bridge is connected to a state roadway, SR 837, my role as a Councilman and County Council as a whole is limited. I sympathize with the owner of Bob’s Autotorium and have informed the Department of Public Works that I fully support whatever measures we have that could help alleviate this issue.”