Pennsylvania Turnpike

5 Dead, 60 Hurt as Bus, Trucks Crash on Pa. Turnpike Near Pittsburgh

The crash happened in Westmoreland County, near Pittsburgh, around mile marker 86

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A deadly crash involving a passenger bus and multiple other vehicles on the Pennsylvania Turnpike killed five people, including a 9-year-old girl, and left dozens injured early Sunday, shutting down a large portion of the highway.

Officials identified the five victims as Shuang Qing Feng, a 58-year-old bus driver from Flushing, New York, Eileen Zelis Aria, a 35-year-old passenger on the bus from the Bronx, New York, Jaremy Vazquez, a 9-year-old passenger on the bus from Brooklyn, New York, Dennis L. Kehler, a 48-year-old UPS driver from Lebanon, Pennsylvania and Daniel J. Kepner, a 53-year-old UPS driver from Lewistown, Pennsylvania.

"Daniel Kepner, age 53, had 5 years of service, and, Dennis Kehler, age 48, had 28 years of service," a spokesperson for UPS wrote. "Both were driving together in a tractor trailer vehicle out of our Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, operating center. Our drivers will be missed and our thoughts and prayers go out to their families."

Officials said at least 60 people were hospitalized after the crash that happened at 3:40 a.m. in Westmoreland County, around 30 miles east of Pittsburgh.

The injured victims, ranging from 7 to 67 years old, are all expected to survive, though two patients remain in critical condition, authorities and hospital officials said Sunday afternoon. The crash shut down the highway in both directions for several hours before it reopened Sunday evening.

Pennsylvania State Police spokesman Stephen Limani described the incident as an "extremely serious crash.” The people were traveling on a bus from a company named Z & D Tours, Limani said. The company did not immediately return requests seeking comment.

While traveling downhill, the bus lost control as it tried to negotiate a corner, Limani said. The bus went up an embankment, rolled over and was hit by two tractor-trailers, the spokesman said. A car then crashed into the wreck, he added.

“It was kind of a chain-reaction crash," Limani said.

Limani said the bus was traveling out of Rockaway, New Jersey, en route to Cincinnati, Ohio. Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Holly Reber-Billings said the trip appeared to have originated from New York, confirming a tweet from New York City's emergency management team.

Most of the people on the bus were foreign nationals who did not speak English, Limani said.

Photos from the scene show a mangled collision of multiple vehicles including an overturned bus, two tractor-trailers, passenger cars and a smashed FedEx truck that left packages sprawled along the highway.

FedEx did not provide any other details besides that they are cooperating with authorities.

There were 25 victims transported to Excela Frick Hospital in Mt. Pleasant, Excela Health spokeswoman Robin Jennings said. Nine of those patients are under the age of 18.

At least one of the 25 victims initially sent to Excela was transported to a nearby trauma center, Jennings said.

Those hospitalized suffered non-life threatening injuries, though two were listed in critical condition, Limani said.

The National Transportation Safety Board announced Sunday that it dispatched a team of more than a dozen to investigate.

The National Weather Service forecast for Westmoreland County early Sunday listed light unknown precipitation and an air temperature just below freezing.

Angela Maynard, a tractor-trailer driver from Kentucky, said the roads were wet from snow but not especially icy. Maynard was traveling eastbound on the turnpike when she came upon the crash site and called 911.

“It was horrible,” she told The Tribune-Review. She saw lots of smoke but no fire. She and her co-driver found one person trapped in their truck and another lying on the ground.

“I tried to keep him occupied, keep talking, until medical help arrived," Maynard said. “He was in bad shape. He was floating in and out of consciousness.”

Pennsylvania Turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo said it was “premature” to say if weather was a factor in the crash.

The highway was closed in both directions for several hours before it reopened Sunday evening. Local fire and emergency medical crews were on scene, along with a hazardous material company cleaning up fuel and other materials. A towing company also separated the vehicles and got them cleared.

“It's a very extensive crash so a lot of work has to be done to get the roadway reconditioned and ready to handle traffic again," said Craig Shuey, the turnpike's chief operating officer.

NBC10 Philadelphia and NBC4 New York contributed to this story.

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