Driver kills 1, injures 17 during performance in Pennsylvania, then kills another, police say
In a pair of gruesome scenes on Saturday that deepened the tragedy of a recent deadly fire in eastern Pennsylvania, a man rammed his car into a fundraising event for families affected by that blaze, killing a and wounding 17, then drove off and fatally beat a woman before police arrested him, authorities said.
Four of those injured in the crash in Berwick, a borough about 45 miles southwest of Scranton, were in critical condition late Saturday, said Joseph H. Stender III, a spokesman for the Geisinger Medical Center, where many victims were taken away. The woman was found dead in the nearby neighborhood of Nescopeck, which was the site of the deadly August 5 fire that tore through a two-story house and killed 10 people.
The fundraiser was intended to benefit victims and families of the house fire, including Harold Baker, a volunteer firefighter who responded to the blaze and ended up losing his 22-year-old daughter and son of 19, along with six other family members, in the fire. Among those killed in the Nescopeck fire were three children, ages 5, 6 and 7, Pennsylvania State Police said. The oldest victim was 79 years old.
In a cruel twist, just eight days after the fire, Mr Baker responded at the scene Saturday in Nescopeck, where the woman was killed. He said a daughter-in-law and several other relatives were injured and his daughter-in-law’s aunt was killed in the fundraiser accident. “I haven’t dealt with the fire yet and now I have to deal with this,” he said.
In a statement late Saturday, Pennsylvania State Police called the crime scenes “very active.” The statement said the suspect was arrested by local police at the scene of the murder and was in custody pending criminal charges. His name has not been disclosed.
Saturday night’s crash added another wave of grief to a small community devastated by the August 5 blaze that authorities described as “violent” and “powerful”. The cause of the fire has not been disclosed. At a press conference Saturday night, Trooper Anthony Petroski said the suspect in Saturday’s death was not a current suspect in the fire, according to the Times-Leader of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
Locals struggled to make sense of what had happened in just over a week. The confusion and anger were compounded because there were so many unanswered questions about the fire, Robin Massina, a Berwick resident who is the daughter of the mayor of Nescopeck, said in an interview on Saturday evening.
“What is this madness?” said Madame Massina. “Why is this happening? We’re a small town that probably hasn’t made the headlines since the 1978 flood.”
She said the community had pulled together after the fire and she believed enough money had been raised for families to bury their loved ones and get back on their feet. Saturday’s event demonstrated the spirit of community, but the violence that followed destroyed the healing process.
Prior to the accident, Lauren Hess, the owner of the poisons department, the bar and restaurant that hosted the event, said she quickly planned the event to help those affected by the fire, according to WNEP, a Scranton-based television station. Donations from the community poured in, she said.
“I got a call on Friday and immediately said, ‘What can I do to help them because they’re going through so much grief and pain? ‘” Ms Hess told the station, adding that she was friends with mothers who have lost children. in the fire.
The event began cheerfully, with scenes of laughing children, country music and water balloon fights. “It’s going to be an amazing day!” the organizers had posted on Facebook early Saturday.
The bar released a statement Saturday night on Facebook calling the day “an absolute tragedy” and said it would be closed until further notice.
Ms Massina, the daughter of the mayor of Nescopeck, said the community rarely sees violence “other than your stupid Saturday night bar fights”.
“And now it’s devastation after devastation, literally days apart,” she said.