Bizarre crash into Highland Park fountain still hard to believe

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The next day, it was still hard to believe.

That a Saturn SUV entering the traffic circle around Highland Park around 6 p.m. Thursday could instead travel across a sidewalk, then over a grassy area and through a patch of flowers and plants, crash through a bench, hit the retaining wall of the basin surrounding the fountain and then fly several feet through the air, bypassing the surrounding pool of water completely and landing upside down atop the raised bowl that housed the fountain's spout.

Evan Jones, the Highland Park foreman, has seen a car or two veer onto the grass near the Park's Highland Avenue entrance. But he's never seen anything like Thursday night.

"Probably never again," he said. "I don't think they could have done it in a movie and have it as perfect as that."

This morning, only a few traces of the car's improbable journey remained.

One of the nine benches facing the fountain had been removed, and on the lip of the fountain's retaining wall and the bowl holding the spout, there were some scrapes from the car. The fountain itself, usually flowing this time of year, had been turned off and the damaged fountain spout removed. Last night, some landscaping work had been done, Mr. Jones said, and today, there was little evidence that a car had passed through.

Just after 11 a.m. today, a crew from Pittsburgh Public Works arrived to drain the pool of water. The fountain, scheduled to close next month for the winter, would likely not open again until next March, Mr. Jones said.

A few people walked or drove through Highland Park this morning, some of them pausing to wonder aloud at the physics that contributed to a car ending up on its roof in the fountain bowl. Jerry Aarons, 84, who lives near the park, had seen pictures of the car and walked by this morning with his dogs to try to imagine it.

"I think it's amazing that the gentleman survived," said Mr. Aarons.

Not to mention that the SUV missed the 50 or so people Mr. Jones said were in the park.

The driver of the SUV -- a 78-year-old man who police have not identified -- was listed Thursday night in stable condition at UPMC Presbyterian. Police said they were investigating whether he had suffered a medical emergency.

The man received almost immediate medical attention, thanks to a doctor who happened to be walking through the park and jumped into the fountain in her scrubs.

Sarah Hagerty, 29, of Highland Park, is a physical medicine and rehabilitation resident at UPMC, and on Thursday she took her dog, Poncho, for a walk through the park with her friend and her friend's young son.

They were near the fountain when her friend's son -- 19-month-old Chance -- ran to the rear of the fountain, farthest from the park's entrance, and the two women and tiny dog followed him. They were sitting on the side of the fountain, their backs to the park entrance, when Dr. Hagerty heard a boom that at first she thought was gunshots.

"We turned around, and we see this car coming, 15 feet, straight toward us," she said today, during a break from her job at UPMC Presbyterian.

It landed on the fountain, and then Dr. Hagerty, still wearing her scrubs, jumped into the fountain and walked through the water to the car.

"You just go," she said. "I'm not in emergency medicine, but you are trained in the medical field, so I felt comfortable to go in and to do whatever I could at the time, having no equipment."

She found the driver was unrestrained, she said, and she picked up his head so he could spit some water out, told him that she was a doctor and that help was on the way. The man was conscious and was able to tell Dr. Hagerty his age and his name, but he had no idea what had happened to him, she said.

Another woman who was also in Dr. Hagerty's residency program was running through Highland Park at the same time and joined her in keeping the man steady above the water until first responders could arrived.

"It was an experience I'll never forget," Dr. Hagerty said.

Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707.

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This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: First Published September 27, 2013 8:45 PM


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