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Police: Driver in 13-month-old's fatality cooperating

| Saturday, Aug. 23, 2003

The ice cream truck driver involved in an accident that killed a Cranberry toddler is cooperating with police, investigators said Friday.

Driver Bill Nguyen 57, of Juniper Drive in Coraopolis, appears to have a clean driving record and volunteered immediately after the accident to submit blood for a drug-and-alcohol test, said Steve Mannell, Cranberry's director of public safety. Test results will not be available for several days, but Mannell said there is no indication Nguyen was impaired.

Thirteen-month-old Zachary Stinebiser, son of Julie and Frederick Stinebiser of Redwood Court, was struck by the front of the truck shortly after 3:30 p.m. Thursday. The Butler County Coroner's Office said the boy died of head injuries about an hour later at UPMC Passavant-Cranberry.

Police could not provide a more specific description of his injuries or how the accident occurred.

Julie Stinebiser, 36, had just bought ice cream from the "Billy's Ice Cream" truck for Zachary and his brother Matthew, 3. Nguyen was pulling away when he heard Julie Stinebiser's screams and stopped immediately.

"You can't even fathom what (the Stinebisers) are going through," said neighbor Jon Canty, who described himself as a close friend of the family. "They're living every parent's nightmare."

Mannell said it does not appear at this point that Nguyen was at fault.

"The driver has been extremely cooperative," Mannell said. "He provided a very clear written statement of what occurred. ... He views this as a tragic accident."

Nguyen could not be reached for comment.

Mannell said Nguyen was just pulling away from the curb, so speed was not a factor. Mannell said Cranberry police will reconstruct the accident and examine the ice cream truck, a 1977 Ford van that police have impounded.

"We're trying to cover every possibility, so no one says, 'What if,'" Mannell said.

Bill Borlak, owner of Billy's Ice Cream, said Nguyen had worked since March for the Coraopolis-based business. He said typical requirements for an ice cream truck driver include a valid driver's license, no traffic violations and no criminal background.

He said Nguyen is well-liked in the company and throughout his beat.

Borlak said before ice cream truck drivers start a route, they must take three days of training.

"A general rule is when four heads come up, make sure four heads leave," he said.

All current trucks are inspected and equipped with rear-view and side mirrors, Borlak said. He said forward-facing mirrors were taken off the trucks because children would hang on them.

Borlak said that in 22 years of operation, his company has had only one other accident involving a child, and it was not fatal. He said the company operates 12 ice cream trucks in communities in Butler, Allegheny and Beaver counties.

Canty, who has three children -- the oldest a 3-year-old who is in a play group with Matthew Stinebiser -- said he doesn't know what could have been done to avoid the tragedy.

"An accident of this nature, you can't plan or do anything different," he said. "It's just tragic."

Neighbors said Stinebisers' friends, neighbors and church -- St. Ferdinand Catholic Church in Cranberry -- are pulling together to do what they can for the family.

"Our thoughts and prayers are truly with them. There's nobody in the neighborhood that wouldn't do anything for them," neighbor Sue Remais said. "Everybody is truly stricken by their grief."

Friends will be received at the Glenn-Kildoo Funeral Home, Cranberry, from 7 to 9 p.m. today and 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Ferdinand.

People are being asked to donate to the Zachary Stinebiser Memorial Fund, c/o PNC Bank, 1340 Freedom Road, Cranberry, 16066.

Canty said neighbors also are planning a balloon release Sunday in honor of Zachary.

"I'll just remember his face," Canty said. "He was just a precious soul. He was a happy little boy."

Staff writer Ellen James contributed to this report.

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