Speeding car bursts into flames after hitting Belle Vernon shed
A Franklin Township man is fortunate to be alive after several Belle Vernon residents dragged him to safety moments before fire consumed the vehicle and part of the house he barely missed Sunday afternoon.
Police said George Ozanick, 28, of Smock, was driving down Cross Alley approximately 5 p.m. when he veered left, through a section of fencing and a concrete block wall and then into a small storage shed on the side of a home at 43 Sampson St. in the Seldom Seen section of the borough.
“If the neighbors wouldn't have pulled him out, he would've burned up with (the car),” Belle Vernon fire Chief Rich Saxberg said. “I'm sure of it.”
Southwest Regional Police officer Mandy Mudrick confirmed Ozanick was speeding down the narrow alleyway while approaching a sharp, left-hand turn. Instead, Ozanick veered into the structure.
Neighbor Bryan Lorence and his father, Tom, said Ozanick's vehicle immediately burst into flames from what Saxberg suggested was a ruptured gas tank.
Saxberg said he cannot make an official determination until an investigation is completed.
After they heard the crash, the Lorences fetched two fire extinguishers and an outdoor hose to knock down the flames while two other neighbors yanked Ozanick from the vehicle. Soon after, the fire intensified.
“We were in the house, heard a big boom, then we waited a couple seconds and heard it again,” said Tom Lorence, who was visiting his son at a nearby residence.
“We were shooting water under the vehicle, and they finally got the seatbelt loose and got him out.”
One neighbor who pried the driver's side door open and dragged Ozanick to safety refused give his name.
“We knocked (the fire) down, and it kept kicking back up again from underneath the car,” Tom Lorence said. “We got the door open only so far and were able to drag him out of there. There was so much thick, black smoke, you couldn't even see the seat belt he was wearing. ... We didn't know if that thing was going to blow up or not,” Tom Lorence said.
Once the driver was free, the house began to burn.
The fire melted the vinyl siding off the house before tearing through a second-story wall.
At least half the house sustained heavy fire and water damage, Saxberg confirmed.
“We had it knocked down after about 10 to 12 minutes, but a lot of these houses in Belle Vernon are old, and they're all wood. So they can go up quickly,” Saxberg said.
The house's owner, Elliot Leyda, said he was inside when he heard Ozanick's vehicle “screaming down the street” before he ran to a window and saw it sailing toward his house.
“He was airborne before he went into our shed,” Leyda said. “It blew the block clear out into the street, and it was 60-pound block.”
A tow truck pulled the charred vehicle, barely recognizable, out of the shed which had mostly burned away. The fire at the house exposed the wooden framing.
Leyda said he would not be able to stay in the house.
“There's big holes in the roof, and the two bedrooms upstairs are completely gone,” Leyda said. “I'm going to try and secure the house, then I guess we're going to have to go someplace else.”
Ozanick was transported via ambulance to Monongahela Valley Hospital in Carroll Township before he was transferred to UPMC Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh.
A Mercy spokeswoman did not return a phone call seeking Ozanick's condition late Sunday evening.
The Belle Vernon, North Belle Vernon, Charleroi, Fayette City, Washington Township and Perry Township fire departments responded, along with Southwest Regional Police and Mon Valley EMS.
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-684-2635.