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Pair of plow mishaps perplexing to PennDOT

| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

A PennDOT plow pushed snow and ice over a Mercer County bridge and smashed a car passing below on Dec. 29, the same day a similar incident occurred 25 miles away in neighboring Butler County.

“I've been in maintenance for 17 years and these two instances are the first times I remember hearing of vehicles being hit by snow falling off an overpass,” said Doug Schofield, maintenance service manager for PennDOT's District 1, which includes Mercer County.

Erin Waters-Trasatt, a spokeswoman at PennDOT's Harrisburg headquarters, said officials would “communicate with our staff as necessary moving forward. We are not aware of any widespread reports of these incidents.”

Brittany Steffanus, 19, of Jackson Center was driving along Route 173 in Wolf Creek when snow fell onto her car from an Interstate 80 bridge, her father Scott Steffanus said.

Steffanus said the impact of the snow and ice shattered the windshield and a passenger-side window and buckled the roof and hood, among other damage. His daughter was not injured and managed to drive her crumpled car 1½ miles home.

PennDOT, which is self-insured, offered Monday to settle the claim for $3,700, Steffanus said. He said value guidebooks put the worth of his daughter's 2003 Chevy Cavalier at $4,700 to $5,000. He said he's not sure if he'll appeal the matter to a local district court.

“I just want them to be fair about an obvious flaw in their protocol of plowing overpasses and pay for the damages,” Steffanus said.

Schofield said he wasn't involved in the settlement process, but did review the case from a maintenance standpoint. “We haven't changed our policy at all, but we are reiterating them and having safety talks with all our operators.”

Schofield said drivers are trained to plow snow to the side of a bridge until there is no more room on the shoulder, then crews are supposed to remove the built-up snow with a loader. He said it doesn't appear too much had built up in this case, adding, “For whatever reason, a big chunk of snow got caught on the wing (of the plow) and then kicked a certain way off the bridge.”

The same driver was not punished.

Also that day, a plow for PennDOT's District 10 pushed snow off a Route 19 bridge in Muddy Creek Township and onto an SUV traveling below on Route 422. Passenger Eric Williams, 39, of Cleveland, Miss., was treated for an eye injury at Jameson Health System in New Castle.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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