Witnesses sought in fatal wrong-way collision on I-70

| Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, 4:58 p.m.

Mary Zaken and her daughter, Cynthia Zaken-Pavlecic, could often be found, their pastor said, sitting together during liturgical services or quietly working with each other during pierogi sales at Ascension Of Our Lord Byzantine Catholic Church in Clairton.

Zaken, 88, and her daughter, 51, who both lived in Elizabeth Township, were killed early Monday when the car Zaken-Pavlecic was driving the wrong way along Interstate 70 between Washington County and Wheeling collided with an oncoming tanker truck, Ohio County, W.Va., Sheriff Patrick Butler said.

“They will certainly be missed. They made a good impression on everyone who knew them,” said the Rev. Ivan Mina, pastor of Ascension of Our Lord church.

Butler said family members told sheriff's deputies that they don't know where the women had been nor why they were out at that time.

Zaken-Pavlecic was driving the wrong way when her vehicle collided head-on with the empty tanker truck about 3:30 a.m., a half mile east of the Dallas Pike interchange, which has facilities for gas and food as well as a rest area, Butler said.

“We're surmising she got onto the interstate at Dallas Pike and was traveling eastbound in the westbound lanes,” the sheriff said.

The driver of the empty tanker truck, Bryan Bell, 27, of Avella, Washington County, was traveling the speed limit — 70 mph, Butler said — and tried to serve to avoid the oncoming car. The force of impact was so great that it knocked one of the wheels off the truck, Butler said.

The women were pronounced dead at the scene, the sheriff said. Bell was taken to a Wheeling hospital for treatment of minor injuries.

Butler said investigators are trying to find anyone who saw the women before the crash in an attempt to learn exactly where they were going and what happened.

Zaken and her daughter were widows and lifelong members of Our Lord church, Mina said.

“Both were very helpful and generous to the church,” Mina said. “Mary has been living at Mt. Vernon (of Elizabeth personal care home) and Cynthia on Blaine Hill.

“They were hard workers. They helped on our pierogi sales,” Mina said. “They were very friendly and outgoing, but they didn't push themselves forward too much. They were just helpful and kind.”

Zaken-Pavlecic was a billing analyst at McKesson Corp. in Green Tree.

Zaken was a former cashier at Marraccini's Super Market in Elizabeth and a member of the church's Ladies Guild and the Blaine Hill VFW Ladies Auxiliary.

Friends will be received from 2 to 9 p.m. Thursday in the Paul E. Bekavac Funeral Home, 221 N. Second Ave., Elizabeth. Services will be held at 10 a.m. Friday in Our Lord church, and burial will follow in Ascension Cemetery in Clairton.

Michael Hasch is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7820 or at mhasch@tribweb.com.

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