Five people were killed and six suffered injuries in a van crash when a tractor-trailer slammed into their vehicle. A group of 11 people, including staff and residents of a group home for the mentally disabled, were on a trip to the Pittsburgh Zoo, according to an Associated Press news report. The report says that the van had stopped at an intersection and then pulled right in front of the tractor trailer on a rural highway.
The five people who were killed were Sheryl Maiolini, 53, of Charleroi; staff member Mary Watkins, 43, of Ellsworth; and residents John Maise, 61, Richard Paquet, 43, and Julie Hugus, 41, the AP reported. Three were residents at the group home and two were staff members. Six others were taken to area hospitals with injuries that included a broken clavicle, a broken hip, and head, neck and spinal injuries. They are all expected to survive, the news agency reports.
Officials say the impact of the crash knocked the van on to its side and pushed it roof-first into a cinder block storage facility, causing the vehicle’s roof to crush and cave in. Officials don’t believe the big rig was speeding. The tractor trailer reportedly belonged to Stocker Trucking Co. in Gnadenhutten, Ohio and was driven by 44-year-old Steven Rouse, an Ohio resident. Rouse was reportedly treated for minor injuries.
Authorities are of course still investigating this tragic accident. Based on the news reports and published photos, we couldn’t tell if the van that was involved in the accident was a 15-passenger van. The dangers of the 15-passenger van are well-documented. As personal injury attorneys who have represented many victims of 15-passenger van rollover crashes we know that these vehicles are nothing better than death traps. They are unstable and weak. Their roofs, as in this case, tend to cave in and cause severe head and spinal cord injuries, many times leading to deaths.
There are also a lot of unanswered questions at this point. Why did the van driver pull up in front of the big rig? Was he distracted or was there some mechanical defect in the van that caused him to do so? Did the driver of the tractor trailer have enough time to stop and avoid hitting the van? Was he an experienced driver? If the accident is determined to be the driver’s fault, he could face criminal vehicular manslaughter charges and his employer may be held financially responsible for the deaths, injuries and damages caused by this accident.
Our hearts and prayers go out to the injured victims and the families of the deceased. We hope they find the answers to their questions. We also hope they consider retaining a personal injury attorney so that a thorough investigation may be conducted and those responsible for the deaths and injuries can be held accountable.