Early morning crash on Pennsylvania Turnpike leaves 5 dead, 60 injured

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The Sunday morning accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike was said to have been a “chain reaction” following a bus losing control and rolling over. (Courtesy: FOX29 PHILADELPHIA)

MOUNT PLEASANT, Pa. ­– A crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike early Sunday morning has left five people dead and about 60 injured when a loaded bus went out of control on a hill and rolled over. According to published reports, this incident set off a chain reaction that involved three tractor-trailers and a passenger car.

WTAE in Pittsburgh reports that all five victims killed have been identified by the Westmoreland County coroner. Among them are the bus driver, Shuang Qing Feng, 58, of Flushing, New York and two bus passengers, Eileen Zelis Aria, 35, of Bronx, New York and Jaremy Vazquez, a 9-year-old girl from Brooklyn, New York.

Two UPS drivers – Daniel Kepner, 53, and Dennis Kehler, 48 – were among the people who died in the crash, the company confirmed Sunday night. Both were driving together in a tractor-trailer out of Harrisburg, Pa., according to a UPS spokeswoman.

Those injured ranged in age from 7 to 67. All 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 Sunday on a mountainous and rural stretch of the interstate about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, shut down the highway in both directions before it reopened Sunday evening.

The tour bus, operated by a New Jersey-based company called Z & D Tours, was traveling from Rockaway, New Jersey, to Cincinnati, Ohio, Pennsylvania State Police spokesman Stephen Limani said.

He said the bus was traveling downhill on a curve, careened up an embankment and rolled over. Two tractor-trailers then struck the bus. A third tractor-trailer then crashed into those trucks. A passenger car was also involved in the pile-up.

“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.

Reports from local media state that 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.

Limani said the Red Cross was working with those patients to find housing and resources. Authorities brought in translators to assist with the investigation and medical treatment, and to help victims reconnect with loved ones.

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

Officials said it was too early to determine if weather was a factor in the crash, but there were eyewitness reports of precipitation in the area.

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.

More than 90 miles of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, from Stanton to Breezewood, remained closed in the westbound direction. Local fire and emergency medical crews are on scene, along with a hazardous material company cleaning up fuel and other materials.

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