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Penn Hills

Penn Hills police officer talks about rescuing a man and his dog over a nearly 300-foot cliff

Michael DiVittorio
| Wednesday, July 25, 2018, 8:30 p.m.
Penn Hills K-9 Officer Jason Bonace and his dog, Kenzo.
Penn Hills K-9 Officer Jason Bonace and his dog, Kenzo.
A man and his dog, a pitbull mix were pulled up safely July 13 following a nearly five-hour rescue operation that began when the man’s car plummeted over a steep hillside in Penn Hills.
A man and his dog, a pitbull mix were pulled up safely July 13 following a nearly five-hour rescue operation that began when the man’s car plummeted over a steep hillside in Penn Hills.

For Penn Hills K-9 Officer Jason Bonace, climbing down a nearly 300-foot hillside to rescue a man and his dog was all in a day’s work.

“I did what most of our guys would have done,” he said.

Bonace and traffic officer Mike Lape were the first responders at the scene of the July 13 crash at Grove and Lincoln roads.

Driver Timothy Hill, of Penn Hills, and his dog, a pit-bull mix named “Boss,” were in a SUV that struck a residential garage and plummeted off a cliff at the intersection — dragging a 23-foot pontoon boat and trailer along with it.

The crash remains under investigation. Lape declined an interview.

Witnesses said they saw the SUV drive down Grove Road at a high rate of speed and go through a stop sign at the Lincoln Road intersection before flying over the hillside.

Bonace saw the wreck over the hill and was surprised to see the driver moving outside the vehicle.

“I’ve seen cars look worse, but there’s no way I would have thought anyone would have come out of that,” Bonace said. “My first reaction after I saw him walking was to get down there and help.

”I basically just winged it.”

He said the dog was shaken up, but otherwise OK.

“I petted him for a little while to build a rapport with him and picked him up off the pontoon boat,” Bonace said. “I could tell right away that his personality was very chill.”

Bonace has worked for the Penn Hills force since July 2005. His police dog is Kenzo, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois trained in narcotics and tracking.

Penn Hills Fire Department Chief Devin Cummings said the night of the crash that the rescue was extremely dangerous because of the steep terrain and debris from the crash.

“The first 30 feet was a low grade,” he said. “After that, we had about 70 to 80 feet of vertical grade. It was complete debris, so any kind of footing completely fell off.”

Cummings said three crews were sent through the woods and a creek at the bottom of the hillside in order to try to get different angles for the rescue, but to no avail.

Firefighters from neighboring communities responded with various rescue equipment.

Bonace was hoisted up via ladder truck and harness with Boss between his legs. The dog did not bark or flinch.

“Getting lifted up that high was nerve-wracking,” Bonace said. “At least one of us was calm.”

Hill was brought up a short time later.

Penn Hills EMS Supervisor Diane Fitzhenry said at the time the driver sustained cuts and a slight head injury. He was conscious when taken via ambulance to a Pittsburgh hospital. The dog was also taken to an animal hospital in Monroeville as a precaution.

Both were pulled to safety around 8:30 p.m., about five hours from the initial crash call.

Bonace said he met with Hill and Boss July 16, three days after the wreck, and both were doing well.

He said Hill told him he didn’t have a seat belt on. He said Hill had time to jump out of the vehicle before going over the hill — but did not want to leave his dog.

Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, mdivittorio@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MikeJdiVittorio.

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