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Officials: Fatal Butler County crash difficult to prevent

| Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, 12:02 a.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
A small memorial sits along Lower Harmony Road in Connoquenessing Township, Butler County at the site of a fatal accident on Wednesday that took the life of Liam Bintrim, 3, and Declan McCullough, who would have turned 1 on Friday. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review

An accident that killed two young brothers in Butler County begs the question of what authorities could have done to prevent it, but there's no easy answer, officials said Thursday.

“There was dangerous and unusual weather that was not in the forecast at all, just a perfect storm of everything going wrong,” said Steve Bicehouse, director of the county's 911 call center.

Mourners set up a small memorial with stuffed animals at the site of the crash in Connoquenessing that killed Liam Bintrim, 3, and Declan McCullough, who would have turned 1 on Friday.

Their mother, Elisabeth McCullough, 32, of Harmony was recovering from minor injuries. Police said her Dodge Durango slid on icy Lower Harmony Road and slammed into a tree.

Theirs was among 73 reported accidents the 911 center handled in three hours on Wednesday morning, the busiest day since Bicehouse became director nearly a year ago.

“It was very chaotic. We had to call in extra dispatchers,” Bicehouse said. “The only thing people on the roads could do was slow down or stop, and that was not always possible.”

PennDOT and other road crews were on standby, but it's nearly impossible to promptly salt roadways that ice over abruptly, said Jim Struzzi, a PennDOT spokesman.

“Freezing rain is very difficult to predict. You cannot really salt in advance. ... All of the salt will just wash away,” he said.

Police said Liam and Declan died when the vehicle's roof crushed them, though the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the Durango roof its top safety rating.

“Cars are designed to handle a lot of accidents. This is a freakish accident,” said Blake Ashby, an accident reconstruction expert from Grand Rapids, Mich.

“You could say the roof should have been stronger. But if the roof is too strong, it makes a rollover much more likely. It might have prevented this accident, but a heavier roof would have caused 100 others.”

Although police said McCullough did not exceed the speed limit, Ashby emphasized that slowing down is the best way to prevent an accident on icy roads.

“Many SUV drivers do not understand that four-wheel-drive vehicles do not stop any more quickly than a two-wheel-drive car,” he said.

A woman identifying herself as a friend of McCullough's is soliciting donations for the family online. She raised more than $5,000 by Thursday afternoon, according to her webpage. She could not be reached for comment.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or rwills@tribweb.com.

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