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Snow helped cause fatal accidents

| Friday, Feb. 23, 2001

A Fayette County man was killed and traffic on the Pennsylvania Turnpike was disrupted for hours when snow swept across the state Thursday afternoon.

Though weather observers in most of the Laurel Mountains reported 3 inches of snow or less, the National Weather Service reported up to 7 inches of snow in parts of eastern Pennsylvania, including 5.8 inches at Philadelphia International Airport.

The snow contributed to two traffic deaths in Western Pennsylvania. State police at Waynesburg said Howard E. Baker, 58, of Uniontown was killed at 2:15 p.m. when his car slid off a snow-covered highway and hit a tree.

Baker's 1987 Pontiac Grand Am was westbound on Route 21 just past Gwynn Road in Jefferson Township when it went out of control, crossed the road and went over an embankment, said state Trooper Brian Shuba.

Shuba said the car appeared to be going too fast for conditions, and Baker was not wearing a seat belt.

Meanwhile, state police near Erie said Russell Young Sr., 35, of Girard, Erie County, was fatally injured when his Toyota collided head on with a truck on Route 98. Young was pronounced dead at Hamot Medical Center in Erie.

Weather conditions were also blamed for a series of chain-reaction collisions that closed the turnpike between Somerset and Bedford from noon until 7 p.m.

Witnesses said between 40 and 70 cars were believed to be involved in the accident, which apparently began when two tractor-trailers collided at milepost 139 near Shawnee State Park.

The collision blocked the westbound and eastbound lanes and caused dozens of smaller crashes as traffic quickly backed up for miles in both directions, witnesses said.

The state police turnpike detail at Somerset could not be reached for comment. A state police corporal at patrol headquarters near Harrisburg said she had no details of the accident.

Traffic was diverted onto surface roads, including Routes 30 and 31, between Somerset and Bedford. Some travelers exited the turnpike at Breezewood and were preparing to hunker down for the night, said Linda Garner of Hopewell, Bedford County, a cashier at the Travel Centers of America truck stop.

'All of the motels around town are really getting full,' Garner said. 'People keep asking us, 'How far is it closed• How long is it going to be?' ... We've been very busy, we're telling people to stay put for the night. We're just trying to keep people cool and taken care of.'

According to a Turnpike Commission travel advisory, one lane in each direction was opened by 7 p.m., but traffic was moving slowly and heavy backlogs were reported.

A National Weather Service meteorologist in Pittsburgh said last night 2.3 inches of snow fell in Farmington, while 3 inches fell in Bedford and State College and in Garrett County, Md. Less than a half-inch was reported at Pittsburgh International Airport.

While central Pennsylvania did not get as much snow as other parts of the state, some evening activities were called off and a few school districts dismissed students early.

The situation was much worse in Philadelphia, where buses and trains were reported more than 15 minutes behind schedule.

Philadelphia International Airport remained open, though some flights were canceled or delayed because of conditions in other cities, including Washington, D.C., a spokesman said.

Some relief was expected today, with the National Weather Service predicting sunshine and temperatures in the 40s in southeastern Pennsylvania, with scattered snow showers over the western half of the state.

Tribune-Review staff writer Jason Togyer and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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