New Castle News

January 7, 2013

Tragedy & heroics: Teen driver in fatal crash may owe life to vigilant off-duty officer

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW WILMINGTON — A Pulaski Township officer’s vigilance may have saved the driver’s life in a fatal accident Friday night in Wilmington Township.

Shane McQuiston of Garner Road, a 15-year-old sophomore at Wilmington High School, died in the wreck that occurred when a pickup truck in which he was a passenger apparently swerved to avoid a deer and went off the road. The truck landed on its roof in Deer Run, a 3 1/2-foot-deep trout stream off Valley View Road.

The driver, 17-year-old Ethan Seeber of Conestoga Drive, was rescued by a team of police and firefighters and was flown to St. Elizabeth Health Center in Youngstown, where he was listed as stable during the weekend.

Randy Courson, the officer who spotted the wreck, said yesterday that his having been nearby resulted in a quick response, but that rescue efforts were stymied by the truck’s position in the stream.

As Courson ended his shift around 9:30 p.m., he pulled his police car around the back of the municipal building on Route 108, facing Valley View Road. He noticed headlights approaching on Valley View, “a ways off,” he said.

He pulled the cruiser into the garage, then got into his own car and drove around the building and the headlights were gone.

“I thought that was kind of strange,” he said, “and I figured the car already passed and I missed it.”

He took South Valley View Road to go home, and as he turned onto that road just minutes later, he saw the tire tracks and a red Silverado on its roof in the stream below the bridge.

Courson, still in uniform, called on his police radio for medical services.



WEIGHING THE CIRCUMSTANCES

“I couldn’t see anyone standing around and I knew it had just happened and there were people inside,” he said, adding the truck was submerged in 3 1/2 feet of water.

“It landed in the deepest part of the creek.”

Courson could hear the voice of one of the boys inside, who turned out to be Seeber, and “I made contact with him. The water was up to the level of the window and I couldn’t see inside.”

The driver’s door was blocked by the embankment, he said. “I asked the driver if he was OK and he said he was, and he was calling for his friend, telling him to keep his head above the water.”

Courson asked Seeber if he could keep his head above-water and he said he could.

“The passenger door window was completely under water,” Courson said. He managed to open the door about two or three inches against the other embankment but McQuiston was submerged and was upside down in the truck.

 “I could see his thighs but I couldn’t get to him,” he said.  He called for more help from the quickest unit, which was Mahoning Township police, and Sgt. Brian Magliocca arrived within six to eight minutes.

“I kept in contact with the driver,” Courson continued. “He said he was cold and I told him we had help coming.”

When Magliocca arrived, the two officers stood in the nearly waist-deep water pulling on the door and opening it slightly more.

“I know when I got there the (McQuiston) boy was still alive,” Courson said, but together, the two officers couldn’t open the truck door far enough. About five minutes later, Lt. Mike Mrozek of the Union Township police arrived, and the three got the door open enough to reach inside the truck, Courson said.

“We cut the door open and still couldn’t get him out,” he said of McQuiston. “We cut the seat belt. Then the fire department arrived and (Pulaski firefighter) Dave Leasure came over to our side and helped us pull the door completely open.

‘We pulled (McQuiston) from the car, and he was put on a backboard,” and they started resuscitation efforts, Courson said, adding,  “At that point, pretty much everyone was there.”



THE RESCUE

 “We were still trying to get the driver out and couldn’t see any of him but his legs,” Courson said.

Seeber was entangled in his seat belt, which the fire department cut, but Seeber wasn’t entirely free from it as it was still wrapped around part of his body. Within 20 to 25 minutes after the fire department arrived, the rescue crews got him out through the passenger’s side and walked him to the ambulance.

McQuiston also was taken St. Elizabeth Health Center, where he was pronounced dead by a Mahoning County medical examiner. An autopsy was scheduled.

Pulaski Township Fire Chief Guy Morse said he had summoned the Neshannock Township water rescue team and New Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department so there would be enough manpower for the effort. Pulaski had 12 rescuers on scene, he said.

Chad Adams, Pulaski Township officer in charge, said he ended his shift earlier but went back to the accident scene. He said Courson and the other rescuers were standing in waist-deep water in 27-degree weather for an extended time.

Courson was soaked from his waist down and Adams sent him home, he said, adding that had Courson not been paying attention to the headlights he saw, the accident could have gone unnoticed.

 “There is no doubt in my mind that if he hadn’t been there, the driver would have died, too,” Adams said, adding that the truck couldn’t be seen from the road.

Courson estimated the truck had traveled about 150 feet off the road before it rolled into the stream.   

Responding in addition to the three fire and three police departments were the state police, Noga ambulance and the Pulaski Township emergency medical service.



GRIEF-STRICKEN SCHOOL

 Meanwhile, the Wilmington Area School District is mourning the loss of its second student and band member to have died in a traffic accident in the past two months. Brandon William Beahr, an 18-year-old senior, died Nov. 4 in an accident state Route 18 in Shenango Township, when a car he was driving hit a utility pole and two trees and overturned onto its roof.

 The crowd attending Wilmington’s basketball game Saturday night overflowed the gymnasium as McQuiston was remembered with tears and prayers. Many of the students who connected on Facebook and Twitter wore white as a memorial tribute.

According to accounts on Facebook, the school’s band director, Jonathon Nickel, earlier Saturday gave the teen’s trumpet and band jacket to his mother, Dana, who is a legislative assistant to state Rep. Chris Sainato.

Yesterday, McQuiston’s sister Kortney used her Facebook page to thank everyone who has reached out to the family.

“Thank you everyone for your love, sympathy and support,” she posted. “I’m sorry I haven’t really responded to anyone but know I read everything from everyone.

“Shane was the best brother in the world and I feel like a piece of me is missing. Please keep my family in your prayers ... This is probably going to be the hardest thing we will have to do in our entire lives ... My heart is broken.”



(E-mail: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)