Bedford, PA Turnpike Crash Kills Six, May 1999


Post Gazette Staff Writer
Buffington, Pa. - Only 18 months ago, 10 Amish families left their mother community near Lancaster to settle into this little populated southeast corner of Indiana County. They never had to bury one of their own here.
Tomorrow - amid legions of fellow Amish, on a new burial ground - they will bury three: two sisters, ages 19 and 17, and a 21-year-old man.
They were three of the six people killed early Memorial Day morning when the van they were riding home from Lancaster County slammed almost head-on into a tractor-trailer on the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Bedford. Three occupants were ejected from the van before it caught fire.
The driver - a 40-year-old non-Amish neighbor who recently moved back to this hilltop mixture of woods and farmland - was among the dead.
"The girls' sister told me, 'If we'd known what was going to happen, we wouldn't have let them go on that trip.'" But the sister said, "We're not supposed to know. What happens is God's will," Connie Ringler said last night as she sat on the front porch of her mobile home, next door to the home of the sisters who died.
Early yesterday morning, more than a dozen vehicles filled with mourners set out from Gap, the piece of eastern Lancaster County where the victims originally lived. Some of the younger passengers, the victims' friends, sobbed softly, the adults remained silent.
"The older people say it's God's will," said one of the drivers, who asked that his name not be used because of his close ties to the Amish. "That's how they stay sane in this."
Killed in the crash were:
MARTHA STOLTZFUS, 19, the middle of nine children. She was engaged to a young Amishman back in Gap, still home to her two older brothers and two older sisters.
ANNA MAE STOLTZFUS, 17, Martha Stoltzfus' younger sister. In January, after Ringler returned with a newborn child, the sisters engineered a welcome home dinner. "It was everything - from salad to dessert," Ringler said, "and it was wonderful."
AMOS KING, 21, of Penn Run, who helped his father run a greenhouse they opened there last winter. King's brother, BENJAMIN KING, 20, the lone survivor of the crash, was pulled from the van and saw it burn. Yesterday after a day at UPMC Bedford for treatment of a punctured lung and broken collarbone, he was released from the hospital and returned home to join the mourners.
Sisters LYDIA KING, 20, and SUZIE KING, 16, Amos King's cousins, still living in Gap.
Driver RANDY BRUBAKER, 40, who regularly ferried the Amish on road trips after he returned to his family's farm in Indiana County to build a house and restart his construction business, away from the congestion he disliked in suburban Frederick, Md. He was married and had a stepchild.
Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the crash.
This much they know. About 5:10 Memorial Day morning - a half hour before sunup - the van was heading west on the turnpike, near the Midway rest stop, just a mile from the Bedford exit, where the group would have left the toll road.
The van hit the divider separating the east and westbound lanes, shot through one of the few openings in the divider, crossed into the eastbound lane and hit the tractor-trailer driver by BRIAN VANAT, 26, of Oklahoma City.
VANAT suffered minor injuries.
Some residents have speculated that BRUBAKER may have fallen asleep at the wheel.
"But the Amish have come by and told
(Brubaker's) wife, Pam, they don't blame RANDY," Linda Bowman, Brubaker's sister-in-law, said yesterday. "They say that whatever happened is God's will. They have such dignity."
Brubaker and the Amish - about 10 families - came to this part of Indiana County at about the same time. He was coming home. They were looking for room to grow.
"They wanted space. They said they were moving out of Lancaster because it's getting so materialistic. People were making money off them," Ringler said.
They settled onto farms eight miles east of Brush Valley were Old Order Mennonites were settling. The Mennonites are mostly woodworkers and craftsmen, the Amish primarily dairy farmers.
But the link between the Amish and Gap stayed strong.
"They might go (visit) every weekend. It was standard procedure - but not the same people all the time," neighbor Dale Bracken said. "They didn't have many people here yet, and they wanted their children to have contact with other Amish children."
But traveling with Amish people meant traveling the Amish way.
You get an early start, Bracken said.
"Then you have the day ahead of you, at home, to do work."
And in mourning, things were done the Amish way, too.
They were there through the day yesterday, scores of them - segregated by gender and age - mostly standing in knots outside the victims' houses, talking, helping when needed.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Pennsylvania 1999-06-02