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.