West End crash could have been much worse, police say

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Linda Witherspoon was inside her West End house Friday morning, getting her two grandchildren ready for school, when "all hell broke loose," she said.

A tractor-trailer -- with the phrase "Jesus is the road" written in white on the front of the red cab -- was barreling toward her McKnight Street home.

Multiple-vehicle crash snarls West End

Investigators remain on the scene of a West End crash this morning involving nine vehicles, including a tractor trailer and two school buses, that sent four people, including an autistic student, to the hospital.(Video by Darrell Sapp; 10/19/2012)

"He was going so fast, he had to be going 100 miles an hour, but he was trying to stop," said Ms. Witherspoon, who is 47.

The truck didn't stop, though.

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It passed through the Greentree Road and Woodville Avenue intersection -- striking cars and two school buses -- toward her house on McKnight Street. She said she acted on instinct.

"I'm screaming, I'm screaming and I grabbed my grandkids and put them in the living room," she said.

The truck hit the left side of her house, pushing into the hallway and continuing to the kitchen, coming to a stop just beyond the building, she said. Her grandchildren were unharmed.

"My kids are always safe with my mom," said her daughter, Raenal Stevenson, 22, of the West End. Ms. Stevenson was in Mount Washington at the time of the accident.

Emergency officials took the drivers of two of the vehicles involved, both adults, to Allegheny General Hospital, where they were in serious condition Friday night.

The scene at the West End intersection looked like something out of a movie, Pittsburgh police Cmdr. Scott Schubert said, but the accident could have been much grimmer if there had been people walking on the street or students waiting for their buses.

The tractor-trailer -- carrying steel wire in a white trailer bearing the words "Delivering your future" -- was traveling at a "high rate of speed" when it came down the Greentree Road hill and struck several other vehicles, including a school bus used to carry Pittsburgh Public Schools students and a West Allegheny School District school bus, Cmdr. Schubert said.

There are no weight restrictions on Greentree Road, which is a state-owned road before the intersection, a PennDOT spokesman said.

When police arrived at the intersection at about 7:30 a.m., they found the tractor-trailer wedged against the side of Ms. Witherspoon's house.

One of the injured was Dominique Riley, a bus driver for W.L. Roenigk transportation company in McKees Rocks, who transports Pittsburgh Public Schools students. She had just dropped off students at Pittsburgh Brashear High School earlier that morning, and had later pickups to make, said a spokeswoman for the city schools.

At the time of the accident, Ms. Riley was sitting in her parked bus in the gravel lot next to McKnight Street, where she stops each morning to drink her coffee before she picks up more of her students, said Ms. Witherspoon and Ms. Stevenson, who are friends with Ms. Riley.

The collision ejected Ms. Riley from the school bus. After Ms. Witherspoon had moved her grandchildren to a safe place, she opened her front door and saw Ms. Riley lying on the ground.

"She was in pain. She was hurting," said Ms. Witherspoon, who stayed with her until help came.

The West Allegheny school bus contained only three people; one student, a child with autism, was taken to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC as a precaution.

"We are very, very thankful that this wasn't worse," Cmdr. Schubert said. "When I pulled up on scene, it looked like a drill, something that we prepare for, and something that you'd see in the movies."

The truck driver was identified as Luis Bienes, 42, of ABC Freight in Hollywood, Fla. Mr. Bienes, who Cmdr. Schubert said was a Cuban national with a commercial driver's license, was taken to police headquarters for questioning.

Later, he returned to the West End with police to aid in the accident reconstruction process. A translator assisted.

Loises Fleitas, owner of ABC Freight, which lists an address in Pembroke Pines, Fla., said when reached by phone that he was still gathering information about the accident and did not have much to say.

"He told me he tried to brake and the truck didn't respond," he said about his driver.

Records listed on the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for ABC Freight showed no crashes involving the company's trucks in the past 24 months but did show numerous violations incurred in the categories of unsafe driving, fatigued driving, driver fitness and vehicle maintenance.

No charges have been filed in the case as police continue to investigate.

Several roads in the West End were shut down Friday morning for a few hours as police investigated and crews removed vehicles from the scene.

For a few hours, Ms. Witherspoon watched from a chair beside her home of five years, which she said had been diminished to "half a house." The Red Cross was providing her with assistance.

Ms. Stevenson's children missed much of the aftermath, since shortly after the accident, Ms. Witherspoon got them safely to their bus and off to school.

"Nothing phases her," Ms. Stevenson said.

At about 11 a.m., however, two paramedics arrived to take Ms. Witherspoon to a hospital. She had told her daughter earlier in the morning she was having back and neck pain.

She had stayed at the scene in discomfort, Ms. Stevenson said, in case anyone needed her.

neigh_city - Transportation

Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707. First Published October 20, 2012 4:00 AM


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