Tragic Death Along Pennsylvania Turnpike

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The Pennsylvania Turnpike was open in both directions 30 miles east of Pittsburgh on Monday as federal investigators combed the area for clues to determine what caused a bus to topple over, triggering a wreck that killed five people and injured about 60.

The bus driver and two passengers, including a 9-year-old girl, were among those killed in Sunday’s predawn wreck in the rolling hills of Westmoreland County.

UPS confirmed that two of its drivers also died. Daniel Kepner, 53, had worked for the company for five years. Dennis Kehler, 48, had 28 years of service. The two were driving together in a tractor-trailer out of the UPS operating center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

“Our drivers will be missed and our thoughts and prayers go out to their families,” UPS said in a statement, adding that the company was cooperating with the investigation. 

County Coroner Ken Bacha said the other fatalities were bus driver Shuang Qing Feng, 58, of Flushing, New York; Eileen Zelis Aria, 35, of the Bronx, New York; and Jaremy Vazquez, 9, of Brooklyn, New York.

The bus, operated by Z & D Tours based in New Jersey, was traveling from Rockaway, New Jersey, to Cincinnati. Many of the passengers were from outside the United States, and Pennsylvania State Police spokesman Stephen Limani said some of them do not speak English and lost their luggage and passports in the wreckage.

Omeil Ellis of Irvington, New Jersey, was at Excela Health Frick Hospital in Mount Pleasant to see his brother, 17-year-old Quan. Omeil Ellis told triblive.com that his other brother, Anthony, was having surgery at another hospital.

“I was crying,” Omeil Ellis said. “I was, like, crazy crying. I’m still hurt.”

The injured were rushed to multiple hospitals, two in critical condition. The hospitals brought in social workers and psychologists to deal with the mental trauma, said Mark Rubino, president of Forbes Hospital.

“The people coming in were not only physically injured, but they were traumatized from a mental standpoint as well,” he said.

Limani said the bus rolled downhill on a curve, careened up an embankment and toppled at about 3:40 a.m. Two tractor-trailers struck the bus, and a third then hit the first two. One passenger car also was involved in the wreck.

Turnpike spokeswoman Renee Colborn said the road had been treated and was not icy. After the crash, the turnpike was shut down in both directions for almost 100 miles. The westbound lanes reopened about three hours later; the eastbound lanes reopened at 4 p.m. Sunday.

National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy said a team of 20 investigators will be at the scene for a week or more collecting evidence. Drones will also be used to document the scene, she said.

“We have a group of experts who will focus on roadway design, driver performance, motor carrier compliance, mechanical aspects of the vehicle, survival factors, accident reconstruction,” she said.

A final report on the crash could be months away, Homendy said.The crash comes two weeks after a series of chain-reaction crashes on an icy, foggy Virginia bridge injured 51 people and closed I-64 for hours in both directions.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Turnpike crash: 9-year-old among 5 killed in Pennsylvania wreck

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