Families buoyed by Plum community support

| Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, 9:03 p.m.

Within the span of nine months, the lives of two Plum families were changed forever.

Kimberly Griffith, 45, and her daughters, Brenna and Mikaela Griffith, 12 and 8, respectively, died Aug. 19, 2011, when they were trapped in their minivan during a flash flood on Washington Boulevard in Highland Park.

On May 12, 2012, Christine Beilstein, 45, died when a tow truck driven by Duane C. Woodson, 51, of Point Breeze, crossed into opposing traffic in the 1000 block of Milltown Road in Penn Hills and collided head-on with Beilstein's vehicle, according to police.

Beilstein's son, Justin Beilstein, 9, suffered severe head injuries and continues his recovery at the Children's Institute in Squirrel Hill.

The two families have received support from the community.

Later this month, the school community, — led by the Plum Borough Education Association (PBEA) consisting of teachers in the Plum School District — is hosting an event to honor the memories of the deceased and provide financial support.

The Second Annual Fall Festival Parade in the Park is scheduled for Oct. 28 at the Boyce Park Ski Lodge.

The PBEA conducts fundraisers throughout the year.

J.R. Pilyih, treasurer of the PBEA, said last year's inaugural festival — that included a casino night — raised $25,000. Proceeds went to the Griffith Family Memorial Fund.

“I talked with Mr. (Chris) Griffith, and he doesn't want the money going to his family,” Pilyih said.

“He said there are more needy families in Plum.”

The PBEA decided the event will serve to honor the memory of the Griffith family and help the Beilstein family financially.

Pilyih hopes to raise about $5,000 for the Beilsteins.

William Beilstein, 46, Justin Beilstein's father, said following the crash that killed his ex-wife, Justin spent a couple of months at Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh and currently is at the Children's Institute.

Beilstein, who also has an older son, Jacob, 14, said Justin suffered a severe head injury.

Also Justin's left hip was broken and he suffered a compound fracture to his left femur.

The youngster has had three surgeries and will need more, said Beilstein, a 1985 Plum High School graduate who lives in Alabama but has been staying in Pittsburgh while his son recovers from his injuries.

Justin also is starting to communicate by blinking and is beginning to eat.

“We don't know what the extent of his recovery will be,” Beilstein said.

Woodson, 50, faces several charges including vehicular homicide, driving under the influence, aggravated assault by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter and a variety of traffic violations.

Woodson is in the Allegheny County Jail.

He is scheduled for a non-jury trial before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Philip A. Ignelzi on Monday.

Beilstein appreciates the PBEA's efforts.

“It is great,” Beilstein said.

“There is nothing you can say or do to thank people for something like this.”

Pilyih sees the timing of the festival as just right. It falls between Plum Community Days in the summer and Sugar Plum Days in December.

“As we go on, we hope it (the festival) gets bigger and better,” Pilyih said.

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8753, or kzapf@tribweb.com.

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