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Valley News Dispatch

'It's a miracle:' 9 teens on the mend after Lower Burrell crash

Natasha Lindstrom
| Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017, 8:57 p.m.
Nine people were injured when this SUV overturned about on Oct. 21, 2017, on Dutchman Run Road in Lower Burrell.
Chuck Biedka | Tribune-Review
Nine people were injured when this SUV overturned about on Oct. 21, 2017, on Dutchman Run Road in Lower Burrell.

Nine teens hurt Saturday in a Lower Burrell rollover crash that mangled the SUV they were riding in are recovering from their injuries, parents and friends of the victims said Sunday.

Brenna Meadows, 17, whose condition initially was listed as “serious,” was one of the last of the victims to be discharged from hospitals this weekend, family members said.

Her mother, Melanie Martin, and stepdad, Matt Martin, planned to take her home after 5 p.m. Sunday.

“She's being released now, so that's good,” Melanie Martin said from the cafeteria at UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood, where Meadows arrived the night before by helicopter. “She has staples in her leg, staples in her head. She lost a tooth. She broke her nose. But it could have been a lot worse.”

About 1:40 p.m. Saturday, the teens, who had packed into a Ford Explorer, were traveling east on Dutchman Run Road toward Route 780 when the vehicle abruptly left the winding, brush-lined two-lane road, hit an embankment and flipped once, police said.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation, Lower Burrell police Patrolman Robert Acquaviva said Sunday.

Authorities haven't determined whether speed played a role in the incident and haven't identified the teens who were injured. The youths are as young as 14 and primarily are Burrell School District students.

“None of the nine kids has more than just broken bones. It's a miracle,” said Mike Kennedy, a family friend of the Martins and board member for the Lower Burrell Flyers, for which Brenna Meadows coaches youth cheerleading.

Jake Black, 18, was driving, according to his mother and stepfather, Shana and Jason Thomas of Upper Burrell.

The three girls and six boys weren't on their way to or from any notable event but rather were heading to other friends' houses to spend a typical Saturday hanging out, Jason Thomas said. He noted that three of the teens had hopped into the Explorer minutes before the accident and had only wanted a ride about a mile up the hill.

“That's how there ended up being that many kids in the car,” said Shana Thomas.

Police said five passengers were ejected.

Ford Explorers have seat belts for seven, but the Martins and Thomases said Black may have been the only one wearing one.

Black suffered a fractured vertebra, which shouldn't require surgery, his mother and stepfather said. He'll have to wear a back brace for about six weeks.

“He's got bumps and scratches, but he's got more mental wounds than anything,” Jason Thomas said. “He didn't sleep last night. He's a wreck, mentally.”

Black was not ejected from the car and was alert enough after the crash to call his parents and tell them he'd been in a bad accident.

Dozens of ambulance crews from as far away as Murrysville and area firefighters joined Lower Burrell, Upper Burrell and New Kensington police in the rush to the overturned vehicle. Helicopters landed at Penn State New Kensington along Route 780 and in the Kinloch section of Lower Burrell.

Before they knew their children had been hurt, the Martins had heard a steady stream of sirens from their home, and Jason Thomas saw a fire truck race by while he was preparing to haul concrete from a nearby construction site.

Melanie Martin was relieved to learn her daughter had regained consciousness and was alert enough Saturday afternoon to give the hospital her phone number. Meadows, however, still shows signs of being disoriented and confused. When she woke, she couldn't remember what had happened, her mother said.

Meadows and Black have expressed fears about getting back in a car. Black doesn't want to drive, the Thomases said.

When Black was released Saturday night, he told his parents, “I don't want to go home. I have to go to the hospitals. I have to see my friends' parents.”

They headed straight to another hospital, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC in Lawrenceville, to visit two of the female victims.

“Our main concern is the well-being of all the kids,” Jason Thomas said.

Amid the traumatic experience, the Thomases and Martins said they're grateful for the outpouring of support from the community, from bystanders who rushed to the scene and from longtime friends asking what they can do to help as the teens recover.

One of Meadows' former youth cheer coaches happened to be two cars behind the Explorer when it crashed and pulled over to call 911 and warn oncoming traffic, Melanie Martin said.

“My phone's been going nonstop,” she said. “People I haven't talked to in years have been reaching out.”

Staff writer Chuck Biedka contributed. Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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