Kaleb Baum was at an outdoor party in northern Indiana County early Sunday morning when he watched a pickup truck carrying what he called "my best friends" go off the road and into a pond.
Despite efforts by Mr. Baum and three friends -- as well as other onlookers and emergency personnel -- three young men died.
Deputy Coroner Jerry Overman identified the deceased as Sean Johnathan Titus, 20, Zane Michael McMillen, 19, and Cody Allen Brink Douglas, 18, all of Kittanning. He said the men had been at the party, left, and returned at 12:28 a.m. when the crash occurred.
"I watched the vehicle flip into the pond," said Mr. Baum, who was at the party with about 20 people. "We were about 50 yards away and when we saw them go in we ran over to try to get them out."
They used a hammer first to try to break the windows without success and then used a pry bar to get the door open and pull the men out. They tried CPR once the victims were on the shore, he said, but it was too late.
The incident occurred off McMillen Road in South Mahoning, which Mr. Baum described as a one-lane dirt and gravel road where the edge of the road and the pond are difficult to see. Asked whether his friends were driving too fast, he said, "maybe a little bit," estimating their speed at about 15 miles an hour.
Some of the residents in the remote and rural neighborhood ran to the pond when they heard loud screaming. Two men (who declined to give their names) had tears in their eyes Sunday when they described how they tried to free the occupants from the pickup, which was upside down in the shallow pond.
"We tried to open the windows. We tried to open the doors. There was nothing we could do. I will never forget the look on those kids' faces," the man said.
The pond is located on property that is a private hunting camp, the two men said. The pickup turned off McMillen Road and drove up the narrow, steep driveway. A sign at the start of the driveway that says "Keep Out. Posted" was put up Sunday by the owner of the hunting camp, neighbors said.
The pond and surrounding property are not known as a gathering place for parties, and the accident victims are not known to the neighbors, the two men said.
Homes are few and far between on McMillen Road, which has many large fields that are cut and cleared and appear to be ready for planting. Horses were tethered to outbuildings near the pond, and their owner was making sure no one drove up the driveway Sunday.
Mr. Baum said he had gone to Kittanning High School, part of the Armstrong School District, with Mr. McMillen and Mr. Douglas. Mr. Titus had gone to West Shamokin High School, another of the district's schools. They all graduated in 2012.
He described them as smart kids who liked to ride dirt bikes and hang out at shopping centers.
Witnesses indicated that several people fled the outdoor party before authorities and emergency responders arrived.
Mr. Overman, the deputy coroner, said the incident was particularly jarring both for the loss of multiple lives as well as the trauma it caused to those who witnessed the crash and then engaged in frantic yet unsuccessful efforts to rescue the victims.
"This was just plain sickening," Mr. Overman said. "They were young and they wanted to have some fun on a beautiful Saturday night, and it just turned tragic."
Mr. Overman said the tragedy began to unfold Saturday evening.
"There was a party on this property involving anywhere from five to 15 people. There was some drinking involved, from what we understand," Mr. Overman said.
Mr. Overman said he pronounced the three dead at the scene at 1:52 a.m. Autopsies are planned at the Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown.
Chief Coroner Michael Baker commented on the "sad truth" that "the majority of motor vehicle fatalities involves substances of some sort, drugs and/or alcohol."
Funeral arrangements are being handled by Snyder-Crissman Funeral Home in Kittanning for Mr. Titus; by Bauer Funeral Home in Kittanning for Mr. McMillen; and by Redmond Funeral Home in Freeport for Mr. Douglas.
Karen Kane: email@example.com or at 724-772-9180. First Published May 5, 2013 10:00 AM