Dump truck rams 117-year-old church in Zelienople

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A pile of bricks and debris lay at the foundation of a 117-year-old Zelienople church, the bright red cab of a tri-axle dump truck smashed into its facade.

The truck, traveling west on Route 68, struck the front of Park United Presbyterian Church at 115 E. Grandview Ave., about 8:45 a.m. Monday, damaging the building and its stained-glass windows. No serious injuries were reported.

Part of Route 68 was closed in both directions, reopening about 2 p.m.

After hitting a wooden electrical pole, street signs and a car in the church parking lot, the truck rammed into the church, said the Rev. Paul Merrill, the pastor of the church, who lives next door.

“I was in the house, and I heard a series of crashes,” he said, comparing the noise to that of “a multi-car pileup."

The cause of the crash is still under investigation, said Zelienople Police Sgt. Chuck Carlson. The truck driver told police that the right side of the vehicle locked up as he applied the brakes, pulling him off the road.

Crews worked Monday to secure the church’s basement and sanctuary, Zelienople assistant fire chief Scott Garing said. The Southern Butler County Technical Team built supports from lumber in the yard then moved them inside to reinforce compromised load-bearing structures.

”We are trying to secure everything in a safe manner,” Chief Garing said.

To prevent more damage and preserve the church’s stained-glass windows, crews took care to ensure the structure was stabilized before moving the truck, he said. The sanctuary ceilings are high, so reinforcing that part of the structure was especially challenging. The truck was towed away about 2 p.m. and did not cause additional damage, Sgt. Carlson said.

The facade’s large center window is dedicated to “Mother Wallace,” a matriarch of the church from the turn of the 20th century, the Rev. Merrill said.

The church plans to conduct services in its fellowship hall while the sanctuary is rebuilt, but accommodations for next week’s Vacation Bible School session, which typically uses both buildings, still are being determined, the Rev. Merrill said.

Joseph Roman, 58, and his 97-year-old father of the same name said it was fortuitous the incident had not occurred later this week, when Zelienople has its annual Horse Trading Days festival. Starting Thursday, the park next to the church will be crowded with craft booths, many of which were supposed to rest against the side wall of the church.

Depending on structural assessments of the building, these booths will be moved at least 50 feet away from the church or out of the area completely, Horse Training Days coordinator Jennifer Ackerman said.

The dump truck bore a label reading Diamond Head Trucking, of Ambridge. A representative of the company said she had no comment.

Stephanie McFeeters: smcfeeters@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2533. Molly Born contributed. First Published July 14, 2014 12:00 AM

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