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Pain from 1970 hit-and-run death in Herminie still stings

| Sunday, April 6, 2014, 11:51 p.m.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Janet Vargo of Charleroi sheds tears as she listens to a preacher speak about her son Joey Vargo on Sunday, April 6, 2014, along Fourth Avenue in Hermine. Joey Vargo was hit by a pickup truck and killed on Sept. 21, 1970, when he was chasing a ball into Fourth Avenue. He was 5 years old, and the service was held to celebrate his birthday, April 6. Nobody has confessed to the hit-and-run.

Tears streamed down Janet Vargo's face Sunday as she released a balloon in the spot where her 5-year-old son was killed in 1970.

Her grief has not ebbed in the decades since.

“I think of him every day,” the octogenarian said.

About 20 family members gathered in Herminie on Sunday to celebrate what would have been Joey Vargo's 49th birthday. He was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver outside a coin laundry service on Sewickley Avenue on Sept. 20, 1970.

The driver hasn't been found.

While the eight dryers and 10 washing machines have continued to whir inside the small, deteriorating laundry, Joey's family has wondered who was driving the pickup that hit him.

“It would've been easier to know who did it and that they got away with it” compared with not knowing, said sister Renea Vargo of Charleroi.

According to reports in the Sept. 21, 1970, edition of the Tribune-Review, Joey was pronounced dead in Westmoreland Hospital at 10:38 p.m. State police were looking for a pickup in connection with the fatal crash.

A state trooper said the driver “made no attempt to stop” and fled onto a side street.

Family members said Joey was playing with a ball and had stepped onto the street to grab it. Janet Vargo was inside the laundry loading the remainder of her clean clothing when her son was hit, she said.

“It's just a sad day for me,” she said.

Family members standing in a small, grassy area next to the laundry service released blue balloons after listening to Scripture and words from Pastor Glen Richardson of First Baptist Church in West Newton. It was the first time they gathered there to remember Joey, who was the eighth child of 11.

Posters with handwritten messages on them from family members were put up outside of the laundry. After the balloon release, music by singer Johnny Cash was played. The musician was Joey's favorite, family said.

Renea Vargo was not present at the time of the crash, but she remembers the aftermath.

“It made monsters real to me at 7 years old,” she said.

John Vargo of Charleroi was there, but he was just 6 months old.

“We're not here to try to find justice in that sense, but more to celebrate my brother's birthday,” he said.

The family is hopeful that someone with information about the crash, or even the driver, will come forward.

“Nobody's looking to hold (the driver) responsible at this point,” John Vargo said. “Growing up, it's kind of been hard on our family.”

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reachedat 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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