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Accident kills two Montour teammates

| Saturday, Feb. 3, 2001

They arrived as fans, eager to see a big game. The Montour Spartans basketball team in first place; their opponents, the Chartiers Valley Colts, a game behind.

They left as teary-eyed mourners, stunned by the news that two Montour players had been killed Friday evening in a traffic accident in Robinson Township on their way to the game.

'It's a shock,' Montour Athletic Director Mitch Galiyus said. 'This is such a tragic day for the Montour community.'

Juniors Brandon Chiarelli and Brian Finnegan, both 16 and from Kennedy Township, were killed in a one-vehicle accident about 5:30 p.m. when their Jeep Wrangler struck a tree on Keiners Lane, said Robinson Township police Chief Dale Vietmeier.

The players were traveling up a hill when an unoccupied car parked in an icy driveway slid out onto the roadway, Vietmeier said.

The Jeep driven by Finnegan swerved to the left, avoiding the car, but Finnegan lost control of his vehicle. The Jeep hit a tree from the passenger side, killing the teens instantly, the chief said.

'They had to be cut out of the vehicle,' Vietmeier said. 'They were pronounced dead immediately at the scene. It was terrible.'

Vietmeier said the roadway was clear of ice and authorities had not determined what caused the Jeep to lose control.

Rumors of an accident spread through the crowd in the Montour gym during the junior varsity game. Most of the fans were unaware of any problems until about 7:15 p.m., when a grim announcement sounded that the varsity game would be canceled because of the deaths of two Montour players.

'This is traumatic,' Galiyus said.

Chiarelli was a second-year starter for the Spartans, one of their top players. Finnegan was a reserve on the team and also played football.

The large crowd came for a big game. Montour (14-5 overall, 8-2 section) entered the evening in first place in Section 5-AAAA, with Chartiers Valley (14-5 overall, 6-3 section) one game behind. There is no word on when the game will be played. The WPIAL regular season ends next Friday.

As the crowd filed out of the gym, some fans were crying. One fan kept talking about the accident putting sports in perspective. Others worried for the families of the players. There were solemn conversations on cell phones, fans passing along the sad news.

Word of the players' deaths spread quickly through the local high school basketball community.

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart basketball coach Brian Keller was visibly shaken after his team's game last night against Duquesne.

Keller, who said he coached in summer basketball both of the boys who were killed, had tears in his eyes. Many of his players also displayed their emotions in a somber postgame locker room.

'This is really bothering them,' Keller said.

Baldwin coach John Lee heard of the tragedy after Chartiers Valley coach Tim McConnell appeared at the game between Baldwin and Mt. Lebanon. Lee knew that McConnell should have been coaching against Montour last night.

Lee said he had known both boys for several years. He recalled how Finnegan was the type of kid who would never walk by without stopping to say hello or ask how Lee was doing.

Lee had watched Chiarelli play since he was in Catholic grade school. As a coach, he said it's his responsibility to take care of his players. He plans to take his team to the funeral home.

Lee's team lost to Mt. Lebanon, but a much greater loss was felt in the locker room.

'We talked to the kids about how unimportant basketball is, and that we would be devastated if anything like this happened to any of them,' Lee said. 'It was a very quiet bus ride home. Our prayers certainly are with both families.

'Montour will get through this.'

Staff writers Paul Paterra and JoAnne Klimovich Harrop contributed to this report.

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