Volunteer firefighter killed by train under Westinghouse Bridge

| Saturday, March 22, 2014, 6:04 p.m.

A volunteer firefighter searching for a missing Wilmerding woman died on Saturday evening when he was hit by a train beneath the Westinghouse Bridge, officials said.

Youngwood fire Chief Lloyd Crago identified the dead firefighter as Edwin “Jeff” Wentzel, 57.

“This was a shock today,” an emotional Crago said, noting it was the first deadly accident he could recall in his 27 years as chief of the department.

Wentzel, a 35-year firefighter whom everyone around the station knew as Lance, was “dedicated to the department, to Youngwood and to his family,” the chief said.

Wentzel leaves behind a wife, two grown children and several grandchildren, Crago said.

The accident happened along a Norfolk Southern rail line at 5:45 p.m., officials said. Emergency crews remained at the scene past sundown. As of 9 p.m., authorities did not say how Wentzel wound up in the path of the train.

Youngwood firefighters received an alert about 8 p.m. to report to the fire station on South Second Street.

The mood was somber as they arrived. A wreath with black and white flowers hung on the door. The American flag waved at half-staff.

Wentzel served as a trustee and was a former assistant chief of the department, which has 56 men and women on the roster. He was part of the support crew for the department's 12-member search-and-rescue dog team and participated in the search for Ruth Ann Mullennix, 55, who disappeared on Monday.

North Versailles police, which patrols Wilmerding, have led the search effort, with Allegheny County and Allegheny County Housing Authority police and other agencies assisting. Bloodhounds and a swift-water rescue crew came up empty on Thursday in a search of Turtle Creek and the surrounding area, aside from finding Mullennix's coat and cellphone.

Norfolk Southern spokesman David Pidgeon said a two-locomotive train hauling 36 rail cars filled with various cargo and 49 empty rail cars hit Wentzel on one of the three rail lines that goes through the area. The other two lines remained open to rail traffic after the deadly accident, although trains were restricted to reduced speeds.

Pidgeon did not know how fast the train was traveling when it hit Wentzel. The speed limit in the area is 40 mph.

“This is a very close fire company. They've been hit pretty hard, “ said Dan Stevens, a spokesman for the Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety. “It's going to be some troublesome times for the people of Youngwood. They are quite shaken over the situation.”

Staff writer Stacey Federoff contributed to this report. Melissa Daniels and Tom Fontaine are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Reach Daniels at 412-380-8511 or mdaniels@tribweb.com and Fontaine at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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