Police chief says dry rot caused tree to fall on car and kill 2 sisters
A Somerset County police chief said dry rot caused a large tree to fall on top of a car heading south on Route 403, killing two young girls sitting in the back seat.
Conemaugh Township Police Chief Louis Barclay identified the victims as sisters, 8-year-old Ryleigh Freiwald and 6-year-old Mikayla Freiwald, believed to be from the Johnstown area.
The freak accident occurred on Monday afternoon, 5 miles south of Johnstown between Davidsville and Tire Hill, when a 2004 Pontiac Grand Am driven by Jason Himebaugh, 36, reached the crest of a hill and the tree fell.
The car then veered to the left and crashed into a utility pole, the chief said.
Two other children, Ciara Freiwald, 5, and Lillie Freiwald, 3; the four girls' mother, Ashley Lichty, 26; and Himebaugh are being treated at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown, Barclay said.
Lichty, who is eight months pregnant, is still carrying the child, Barclay said.
“She got out of the vehicle,” he said. “The (driver) was unconscious behind the wheel.”
Paramedic Adam Trabold of Conemaugh Township EMS said he went to the crash site and was later joined by two off-duty paramedics who responded.
“After I arrived on the scene, it was uncontrolled chaos,” Trabold said.
“We were trying to get everything done. Once you get more resources, you're able to focus on one patient at a time. I tried to treat each patient as (my) family member,” he said.
“Because children were involved, it makes it more stressful. We've seen more fatalities in a single crash,” said Terry Ruparcic, who manages the EMS station. “But when kids are involved, that changes the game.”
Trabold said losing children is emotionally difficult.
“In the 10 years I've been here, this is a 9 out of a 10 on a scale,” he said.
The paramedics were debriefed by mental health counselors after the accident.
Barclay said a state police team was reconstructing how the accident happened about 2:30 p.m.
“I took a look at the base of the tree and it appeared to be dry rot,” the chief said.
Two police detectives interviewed Lichty and Himebaugh at the hospital. The two injured children were expected to be released from the hospital on Tuesday, Barclay said. He said they were outside the car with their mother when police arrived.
Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller said the two girls died of blunt-force trauma to the head.
Himebaugh has been dating Lichty for about 18 months and is about eight months pregnant with his child, said his friend, Dan Gorgone, a professional disc jockey in the Johnstown suburb of Richland.
“It's been hard,” Gorgone said of the news that the children had died and his two friends are hospitalized.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Ex-teammates say Kessel unfairly criticized
- Pirates notebook: Taillon headed for surgery, Richard traded
- New Penguin Kessel’s shot is what makes him special
- Jewish congregations dwindling, forced to mull viability of worship sites
- Early turnout strong for Pittsburgh’s Fourth of July festivities
- Russian winger Plotnikov could join Penguins in August
- Bethel trio of siblings celebrate 150 years of marriage
- Floating homes offer ‘affordable’ option in San Francisco area
- Homestead Cemetery records will be preserved
- Pirates can’t overcome long rain delay, Indians in interleague setback
- America’s path to freedom reflected in region’s numerous historic sites