Jim Stefanucci, The Meadville Tribune
Meadville police Sgt. Edward Kightlinger stands next to Alex Habay's car, the wayward wrecking ball in its trunk, yesterday.
Alex Habay was in his Ford Taurus, stopped at a traffic light in downtown Meadville, Crawford County, yesterday morning, thinking about nothing, idly listening to a radio commercial while on his way to his summer job at the YMCA.
That's when a 1,500-pound wrecking ball smashed into the rear of his car.
"I was in complete bewilderment," said Mr. Habay, 20, of Hampton, a junior at Allegheny College. "At first I thought it was a car, but when I turned around there was no car.
"I was confused."
So were a lot of other people in Meadville yesterday.
Meadville police said the episode began around 9:45 a.m. about 3,600 feet away, near Allegheny College's Pelletier Library, where a crane was demolishing part of the building. That's where the cable holding the 3-foot-diameter wrecking ball snapped, starting its downhill tumble from the college to the town.
Police said crane operator Robby L. Boring, 28, of Meadville, was injured when he tried to stop the wrecking ball by throwing bricks in front of it.
As it gained momentum, the wrecking ball rumbled from the campus along North Main Street, pinballing back and forth across the street, hitting nine parked cars and damaging curbs with each impact.
By the time it reached Mr. Habay's car at North Main and Randolph streets, it had gained enough momentum to crush the trunk into the back seat, showering Mr. Habay with glass and pushing his car into the two cars in front of him. The fourth car in line was a Meadville police cruiser.
Mr. Habay, Mr. Boring and a second driver, Junior White, 67, of Meadville, were treated and released at Meadville Medical Center.
Mr. Habay said he doesn't remember much about the accident, describing it as "a huge crash."
Rescuers fitted him with a neck brace and put him on a stretcher after they pulled him from his car. Six hours later, the economics major and forward on the Allegheny College soccer team complained of neck and back pain and "a really bad headache," but felt good enough to go take a look at his car.
"It looks pretty bad," he said.
He hadn't thought much about it before, but he'd been carrying eight soccer balls in the back seat of his car for a while. He said a police officer told him the balls likely lessened the impact of the wrecking ball, saving him from more severe injuries.
Meadville police Officer Brian Joseph, who investigated the incident, said it was a straightforward case. By mid-afternoon yesterday he'd wrapped it up, except for one thing: "a whole bunch of paperwork."
Steve Levin can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1919.