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Three killed, two injured when car runs off Parkway West

| Monday, Feb. 22, 2010

Three young adults died early Sunday and two others were injured after their car careened off the Parkway West.

The Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office identified the dead as Derek J. Phillips, 20; David E. Rizzo Jr., 20; and Rizzo's girlfriend, Tara Schulz, 18, all of Upper St. Clair.

State police identified the survivors as driver Ryan D. Safka, 18, and front-seat passenger Brenden Johnson, 18. Addresses weren't available. Both suffered minor injuries, according to a news release. Both were in fair condition at UPMC Mercy, Uptown.

Autopsies determined that Phillips died of head and trunk injuries; Rizzo of a fractured spine; and Schulz of head injuries.

Authorities said the 2007 Dodge Caliber hatchback was headed east about 1:50 a.m. about a quarter-mile east of the Parkway Center Mall entrance ramp.

According to an initial report written by Trooper Adrian Lapaglia, the survivors "were able to escape from the vehicle and contact Allegheny County 911." Lapaglia didn't know what caused the crash. State police said it is unknown whether anyone was wearing seatbelts or whether alcohol played a factor in the accident.

Record snowfall has been plowed into a hard mush of ice rimming the guide rails along the Parkway. Police said the driver lost control of the car on a curve and went over a guide rail.

The guide rail was left intact, as if the car ramped up the snow caked against it, became airborne over the side of the cliff and flipped repeatedly before becoming tangled in trees about 50 feet south of the roadway.

The wooded hillside appeared to have stopped the car from plummeting deeper toward Banksville Road.

PennDOT spokesman Jim Struzzi said his agency also will examine how the crash happened.

"As a general rule, every time there is a fatality, we open an investigation into what happened," Struzzi said. "I'm sure that we'll be working with the state police on it."

The youths' relatives are distraught.

"David was a student who was finally finding his way, bettering himself," said his uncle, Frank Rizzo, 54, of South Park. "He had been undecided about what he wanted to do, but he was going to take the apprenticeship test to become an electrician.

"He was a very sentimental kid, very polite. He always was there for everyone else, very sincere. He loved his dad and his mother, and he was always helping everyone out."

Rizzo graduated from Upper St. Clair High School in 2009 and fell in love with Tara Schulz about three months ago.

She graduated from Pymatuning Valley High School near Ashtabula, Ohio, and the Ashtabula County Joint Vocational School, studying the culinary arts. Schulz's online Myspace page indicated that she and her boyfriend planned to move to Pittsburgh. Six hours before the crash, she typed on her profile she hoped "that my baby feels better soon!!!"

Both her boyfriend and Phillips like Rizzo a graduate of Upper St. Clair were diehard Penguins fans.

"We called David 'the world traveler,'" Frank Rizzo said. "He was impulsive. One time, he told his family and we're close-knit that he was going to see the world. Next thing we knew, he was halfway down to Florida.

"He wasn't a bad kid. He was a good kid who cared about everyone."

Derek Phillips was a huge sports fan and someone who was easy to talk with, said Alexis Zunic, 18, of Upper St. Clair, a friend who lives on the same street as Phillips' family. She said Phillips was looking to move to Tampa for school. He graduated from Upper St. Clair High School last year.

"I really looked up to him," Zunic said. "I always went to him to talk. I trusted him a lot. ... He was very caring and lovable, kind-hearted."

Staff writer Tom Fontaine contributed to this report.

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