Car smashes into Arnold home

| Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, 1:39 p.m.

An Arnold woman who lobbied to keep big trucks off Murray Avenue was injured Tuesday morning when an out-of-control car slammed into her house.

Sherry Ashbaugh, 42, of 2125 Leishman Ave., which sits at the bottom of the very steep Murray Avenue, was in fair condition Tuesday night in Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh, where she had been flown.

Her two children, ages 3 and 5, were with Ashbaugh when the car roared into the house just after 10:30 a.m., but they were unharmed. Ashbaugh's husband, Harry, was at work.

The driver, Richard Swiklinski, 64, of the 300 block of Murray Avenue, was in good condition at AGH, where he was taken by ambulance.

“He may have had a mechanical failure,” Arnold police Sgt. Mike Krahe said.

A state police accident reconstruction team was helping police with the investigation.

A security camera at neighbor Cynthia Headen's house captured the car coming down the hill. It doesn't appear to slow down just before impact.

The four-door Ford Taurus went into the house where the front door stood. It went all the way through to the back corner, with the driver's side front punching a hole through the house's side near the back porch.

It apparently came to a stop by a stairwell near the kitchen.

It's unclear whether the gray cedar shake-sided house can be repaired. City Engineer Mark Gera said the house isn't safe and can't be occupied unless it's repaired.

There was no fire or explosion and all utilities were shut off after the crash.

Firefighters went to the basement to shore up the kitchen floor.

“A kitchen was not made to be a parking space,” said Arnold No. 2 fire Chief Chris O'Leath.

After the kitchen floor was secure, a tow truck gradually worked the car out through the cavern it had created.

“It's incredible that no one was killed,” Krahe said.

Big trucks banned from road

Last year, Arnold Council banned tractor-trailers from Murray Avenue and other hilly streets that run from Freeport Road to Constitution Boulevard.

City officials continue to work with PennDOT and New Kensington officials to have truck traffic on Tarentum Bridge Road directed toward Industrial Boulevard to enter Arnold, rather than turning onto Freeport Road and having to turn down a steep hill.

Ashbaugh and her two kids were awakened last June at 4:30 a.m. when an out-of-control tractor-trailer slammed into a utility pole less than 30 feet from their house.

“The entire house was shaking,” she told a reporter in July. “It took them two hours to get it out. Now, the utility pole shakes in the wind and I'm scared it might fall on my house.”

Residents: ‘The latest of many'

On Tuesday, family and neighbors said the accident was the latest of many.

“They used to have a little pond and decorative waterfall (in front of the house) until last winter when a car took it out,” said Sherry Ashbaugh's sister, Danielle Simak, who lives across the street.

Neighbor Alicia Phillips heard the car smash into the house Tuesday and ran from her house two doors away.

“I saw Sherry partially under the car. I pulled the kids off of her,” Phillips said. “Thank God, they weren't hit.”

Phillips took the children to their aunt's house across the street.

“I was at the back of my house and a neighbor was knocking on my window,” Simak said. “I ran outside in my bare feet and grabbed the kids.”

“By the time I got back, Sherry had crawled toward where the door was,” Phillips said.

Arnold looks for solution

Next-door neighbor Cynthia Headen urged city officials at Tuesday night's council meeting to find a way to prevent future accidents.

“I've had tractor-trailers on my sidewalk,” Headen said. “What is it going to take — someone to die?”

Headen said she set up the video camera that captured Swiklinski's car careening down Murray Avenue to track vehicles that damaged her property.

She said she parks her cars in front of the house in hopes they'll act as a barrier.

“That would've been my life because I was sitting beside the window,” Headen said of Tuesday's crash.

Mayor Larry Milito, who lives at the top of Murray Avenue, said Tuesday's crash was a “freak accident.”

“You can't control everything all the time,” said city Solicitor John Pallone. “It could not be prevented to the best of our knowledge.”

She questioned whether officials could change the street to a one-way uphill road, or install speed bumps or some type of barrier at the bottom of the hill in front of the houses.

Milito said they would look into whether a one-way street is feasible.

He said that likely would require input from residents on how that change would affect them.

Gera, the city engineer, said a barrier probably isn't possible due to lack of publicly owned space to build one, the large size it would need to be to block tractor-trailers and the liability it would create for the city if someone is injured crashing into it.

If Ashbaugh's house is not repaired and is torn down, Gera said the city could consider acquiring the property and installing some type of ramp that out-of-control vehicles could use in an emergency.

Gera and other officials said it was too soon to make any decisions, especially since they haven't determined what caused the crash or what will become of the damaged house.

“I feel for you,” Milito told Headen. “That's the steepest street in Arnold. When I go down there, I think, ‘What would I do if I lost my brakes?' ”

Click here for WPXI video of the incident.

Chuck Biedka and Liz Hayes are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Biedka can be reached at 724-226-4711 or Hayes can be reached at or 724-226-4680.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.


Show commenting policy