Two children die in crash, other wrecks reported in Butler County
Icy roadways from light rain in Butler County surprised morning motorists on Wednesday, causing a crash that killed two children and dozens of other wrecks despite above-freezing temperatures.
Road crews were unprepared but tried to respond quickly to conditions forecasters said they could not recall occurring here in decades.
Liam Bintrim, 3, and Declan McCullough, who would have turned 1 on Friday, were crushed by the roof of their mother's car when it slid and rolled on an icy Connoquenessing road and slammed into a tree.
“By far this was the most tragic (accident) of the day,” said state police Lt. Eric Hermick, whose tie bore a bloodstain from holding Liam after firefighters freed the boys from the mangled wreckage.
Hermick said he believes the boys, strapped into car seats, died instantly. Their mother, Elisabeth McCullough, 32, of Harmony, suffered minor injuries in the crash on Lower Harmony Road, about five miles from the family's home.
A woman who identified herself as an aunt to the boys said family members were too distraught to talk and were caring for two siblings.
Neighbors said the family moved into their home a couple of months ago. Christmas decorations adorned the lawn, including a Snoopy doghouse and a plastic penguin.
“They're good people,” neighbor Linda McCormick said. “They didn't deserve this.”
Brad Rehak, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Moon, said he had not seen similar conditions in 24 years.
“Temperatures overnight were about 15 degrees and may have dipped into single digits in some areas north of Pittsburgh, so the rain that fell turned to ice when it hit the ground,” Rehak said.
Hermick said state police received 42 reported accidents in the county within a 15-minute period. Butler County's 911 center reported 39 wrecks between 10 a.m. and noon, handled by state troopers and municipal police departments.
Several people went to hospitals, dispatchers said, though their conditions were unavailable. Dispatchers said they believed the boys' deaths were the county's only storm-related fatalities.
Dispatchers also reported multiple crashes in northern Beaver and Armstrong counties.
Hermick blamed ice for McCullough's accident about 10:30 a.m. “We believe this was a pure incident beyond her control.”
Robert Skrak, manager of PennDOT's District 10 office covering Butler County, said the weather caught crews off-guard.
“We were monitoring the temperature very closely this morning, then all of a sudden we started getting reports from state police about icing conditions on area roadways,” Skrak said.
Skrak said thermometers on PennDOT vehicles recorded air temperatures of about 39 degrees and road surface temperatures averaging 37 degrees. When the rain began, the road surface temperatures dropped into the 20s, he said.
“We sent salt trucks as fast as we could and (the salt) quickly took care of the problem, but not before there were vehicles sliding all over the place,” Skrak said.
A construction truck carrying explosive materials along Route 422 in Butler Township slid off the road shortly after 10 a.m., police said.
The box truck was loaded with about 300 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer pellets, 200 gallons of diesel fuel, and TNT and blasting caps heading to a demolition site, said Butler Township police Officer Alan Morris.
Authorities removed the materials from the truck and cleaned up spilled fertilizer pellets before pulling the truck up from the hillside, Morris said.
Hermick said a Butler Township police officer was slightly hurt when a PennDOT truck hit his cruiser at Routes 422 and 68.
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