Chester Heights, PA Auto Hits Tree Kills Five, Jan 1999



Chester Heights - Five teenage girls, all juniors at Penncrest High School, were killed yesterday when their car careened off a dangerous stretch of Route 1 and slammed into a tree, state police said.
Four of the victims died in the wreckage and the fifth died several hours later at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where she had been flown by helicopter after the 3:45 p.m. accident.
The dark blue 1989 Chevrolet Corsica driven by LOREN WELLS, 16, of Media, was crushed on impact - along a stretch where at least 15 people have been killed in accidents in the last decade and more than 1,000 people have been injured.
Crosses erected in memory of other Route 1 accident victims dot the roadside not far from the latest crash scene.
The victims of yesterday's crash were trapped in the crumpled vehicle, and rescue crews had to rip the wreckage apart to recover their bodies. Only one, TRACY GRAHAM, 17, who was in the middle of the back seat, showed any sign of life when an unidentified nurse, a passerby, stopped at the scene. Police said GRAHAM was taken first to Riddle Memorial Hospital, then was flown to HUP, where she died about 10:30 p.m.
Frantic witnesses, sitting in their cars in sight of the wreckage, called 911 on their cell phones screaming for help.
"It's pretty bad," said State Trooper Joe McCunney. "It's a very bad scene."
State Police said WELLS was wearing her seat belt. McCunney said it did not appear that any of her four passengers were wearing seat belts.
McCunney said that the others killed, also from the Media area, were BECKY WEIRICH, 16; RACHEL, LEHR, 17; and SHAENA GRIGAITAS, 16.
News of the tragedy stunned fellow students attending a wrestling match last night at the school, leaving many of them in tears. Officials of the Rose Tree-Media School District canceled all weekend band and sports activities and said counselors would be at Penncrest High School, 134 Barren Rd., at 10 a.m. today to help students, parents and others devastated by the loss.
Grief-stricken parents and other relatives were ushered last night into the state police barracks at Media to hear details of the crash. None went immediately to the Delaware County Medical Examiner's Office in Lima, where the teenagers bodies were taken for autopsies.
"I was here and I spoke with three of the families," said McCunney. "It's pretty tough. I can't tell you what they felt. I have a daughter ... but I can't even imagine what it would be like to have a police officer notify me that my daughter died. It was very emotional."
Police said the car WELLS drove was headed north on Route 1, nearing a curve, when it swerved across the median into the southbound lane and traveled about a half-mile before it crashed into the tree, which was on the northbound side. Witnesses told police that the car may have jumped the median twice as it careened out of control.
The impact was so great that the car's engine was driven back into the car. "The
engine block was just about in the driver's seat," said State Trooper Tim Rymer.

The Philadelphia Inquirer Pennsylvania 1999-01-30