Deadly crash in New Castle sparked 'chaos'
Barbara Brown thought her grandson was sword-fighting with a neighborhood friend when she heard sticks breaking outside.
Then the screaming started.
“I saw the little boy raise up and I looked at him,” said Brown, 69, of New Castle. “Everything was in chaos.”
Police in New Castle said Virgil Coonfare, 66, was under the influence of drugs Sunday afternoon when he drove a truck into a yard and struck Brown's grandson, Emil “Ozzy” Velez, 9, and his friend, Octavius Stone, 7. Brown spotted her grandson lying on the grass when she came outside.
“I said, ‘Ozzy, don't move,' ” Brown said. “I looked at him, and I could tell he wasn't OK. He looked at me — out of it, in a daze, but he still looked at me.”
Emil was in good condition in Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh on Monday, where he was flown by helicopter after the 2:15 p.m. accident.
Octavius died of chest injuries, Lawrence County Deputy Coroner Richard Johnson said. Octavius' mother, Cynthia Clark, could not be reached for comment.
Police charged Coonfare with homicide by vehicle while under the influence, aggravated assault by vehicle while driving under the influence and driving under the influence. A woman who answered the phone at Coonfare's New Castle home said the family had no comment. Attorney David Acker, who is listed as Coonfare's attorney in court records, is out of town and did not return a message.
Coonfare's license was under suspension when he drove through the neighborhood, striking a car on Rose Avenue before taking Stanton Avenue and turning left on Winslow Avenue, New Castle police Chief Robert Salem said. Coonfare drove onto the sidewalk on Winslow and up an embankment through the front yards of two homes, police said. He hit the children around the front steps of a home on Winslow, police said.
“The kids were doing nothing wrong,” Salem said. “They were right up on the sidewalk by the porch, where they should be safe.”
Maria Brown, who is not related to Barbara, was outside her home on Winslow when, she said, she saw Coonfare drive up the embankment. She said he ran over the children and kept going.
“I just started screaming,” said Maria Brown, 30. “I'm pretty shook up still. I can't get it out of my head.”
Another neighbor, David Moffatt, 36, said he ran toward Coonfare when he heard him slurring his words and saw him staggering as he walked back toward the scene of the crash. Coonfare was wearing one shoe.
“I'm never going to forget it,” Moffatt said. “Every time I walk out, it's going to replay in my mind.”
Coonfare failed field sobriety tests, and police took him to Jameson Hospital in New Castle for further testing. A state trooper said Coonfare was under the influence of a depressant and a narcotic painkiller, according to a criminal complaint. Police found pill bottles in Coonfare's truck, but investigators have not determined specifically which drugs Coonfare took, Salem said.
A judge ordered Coonfare held without bail in the Lawrence County Prison. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Dec. 5.
Neighbors carrying a sympathy card collected donations for Octavius' family and Genevieve Gabriel, 72, of New Castle tied a balloon near the scene of the wreck. She said her great-nephew was friends with Octavius, and the two attended Thaddeus Stevens School.
“This just breaks my heart,” Gabriel said. “Such an ending for a little boy. Such an unhappy ending. I know he's in heaven, but it's too soon.”
Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Washington Township woman savors family’s turkey farm tradition
- Comeau’s hat trick leads Penguins; Crosby reaches 800 career points
- Media websites hacked by Syrian Electronic Army
- Steelers’ backups Archer, Harris ready to run
- Starkey: Rutherford will add when timing’s right
- Cosby made deal with National Enquirer to spike accuser’s story in 2005
- Steelers notebook: Roethlisberger says Saints game is ‘must win’
- Pitt plays best game of the season in rout of Kansas State
- Blairsville judge accused in hit-run set to enter program for 1st-time offenders
- New Kensington homicide suspect faces trial on tampering charge
- Prison phone cost to drop 70% in Pa.