Three Kittanning men die in Indiana County crash
Friends and firefighters tried in vain to rescue three young Armstrong County men trapped in a pickup that had overturned in a muddy Indiana County pond, authorities said.
“What I think probably happened is the truck settled in and pinned the doors shut,” said Plumville volunteer fire Chief Bill Hutchison, who pulled the three bodies from the vehicle. “When the truck was upside down, that blocked the tops of the door so it wouldn't have opened.”
Indiana County Chief Deputy Coroner Jerry Overman identified the victims as Sean Johnathan Titus, 20, of Rayburn; Zane Michael McMillen, 19, of North Buffalo; and Cody Allen Brink Douglas, 18, of North Buffalo Township.
Hutchison said the 20- by 40-foot pond is in a field of grass 6 inches to a foot high. He speculated the truck was climbing a steep hill to a camp on a private lane in South Mahoning Township when the driver got disoriented and drove into the water.
“They wouldn't have seen the water until they were on top of it. If you were not from there, you wouldn't have known it was there. It looked like the lay of the land,” Hutchison said.
The property is in the 2100 block of McMillan Road and not visible from the road.
State police said the three arrived at the property around 10 p.m. Saturday to meet with friends. They stayed for a while before leaving, then returned again about midnight.
While the truck was traveling up the dirt road, it continued straight toward an incline that contained the pond, entering the pond front end first. Then, the vehicle rolled on to its roof, trapping the three in the cab under water.
Neighbor Dan Ferringer said a group of young men come out to the property about every other weekend to camp out.
Ferringer owns the property in front of the overflow lake where the men died.
“It was a mess last night,” Ferringer said. “This is the first time something like this has happened out here.”
The fire department was notified of the accident at 12:26 a.m. Witnesses told police Titus was driving the truck. Two witnesses, who were not identified, tried to free the men from the truck but could not, Hutchison said.
Plumville fire Capt.Rick Stenman, who waded into the chest-deep water to attempt to rescue the victims, said witnesses had tried to tow the pickup out of the water but in the process a chain and strap had broken.
When fire crews first arrived, the only thing visible was the truck's rear axle.
Hutchison said he took one step into the pond, and the water rose to his chest and his feet sank eight inches into the muddy bottom. He waded 10 feet to the truck.
When he reached the pickup, he found all the windows intact but the windshield broken. He said someone might have hit the windshield.
“There was no possibility of an air pocket,” he said. “It was an older pickup. I assume there was enough entry points.”
Hutchison said none of the men were wearing seat belts but might have removed them after the crash. He passed the victims one by one to the man behind him, and the firefighters and some witnesses tried to revive them.
“They were apparently known to the people. They started calling out names,” he said.
Overman said the three were pronounced dead at 1:52 a.m.
Stenman said that the boys were under water for at least 20 minutes.
“But I don't know how long they (the witnesses) waited before calling for help,” he said.
The coroner's office will order toxicology tests to determine whether alcohol was involved in the accident, Overman said. Hutchison said he saw no empty cans or bottles in the cab.
A spokesman for Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center said an autopsy on one body was completed Sunday. The other two men were organ donors.
Snyder-Crissman Funeral Home in Kittanning will handle funeral arrangements for Titus; Bauer Funeral Home in Kittanning will handle arrangements for McMillen, and Redmond Funeral Home in Freeport will handle arrangements for Douglas.
Staff writer Brian C. Rittmeyer contributed to this report. Kate Wilcox and Bill Zlatos are staff writers for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be reached at email@example.com.