It may be a while before accident reconstruction experts are finally able to piece together what led up to the Sunday crash in Mercer County that left two young girls dead and two others in critical condition.
It happened just west of the Route 19 exit along the eastbound lanes of Interstate 80 in East Lackawannock Township.
Pennsylvania State Police said 16-year-old Alexis Myers and 15-year-old Danielle Nelson were riding in an SUV that slid out of control on the snow-covered highway around 6:40 p.m. Sunday. The car hit one semi, then spun around and stopped on the road, only to be hit head-on by a second semi.
The 17-year-old girl who was driving and another passenger were taken to a Pittsburgh hospital with serious injuries.
The 37-year-old driver of one of the semis was taken to Grove City Medical Center with broken bones. The 53-year-old driver of the second semi was not injured.
It was one of at least half-a-dozen accidents between the West Middlesex and Grove City exits in a very short time.
“We have ten miles of Interstate 80 and there were crashes throughout all of those ten miles, plus further east and also west of where we cover,” said Mercer East End Fire Chief Bill Finley.
PSP said the girls’ SUV was one of several vehicles traveling together, heading to a Young Life religious event at Grove City College. Although one of the other vehicles in the group slid off of the icy road into the median, no one else in the group was hurt.
Young Life released the following statement on Monday:
We are devastated by the tragic loss of Danielle Nelson and Alexis Myers, both beloved participants in Young Life. We mourn with and for their families, and will do all we can to support them in their grief. Young Life activities in their community have been postponed or altered to care for the young people who have lost their dear friends. We are also praying for and supporting the families of the two young women who were injured in this accident. This is a time of unspeakable sadness, and we pray for reassurance, healing and hope.”
I-80 eastbound was closed for several hours while crews cleaned up the accident.
Traffic was backed up for miles. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation put up a sign, diverting traffic off of the highway, but many didn’t see it.
Patrick Moran, of Parkersburg, Iowa, said he would have gotten off the highway but he didn’t see the sign.
“If they had somebody out there, directing us off and going around it, it probably would have been a lot safer,” he said.