Coaches aid in fiery crash rescue
Two track coaches rushed to the aid of others following a traumatic crash earlier this month in Forward Township.
As EMTs and firefighters arrived at the scene of the two-vehicle crash on Evans City Road shortly after 9:45 p.m. on May 13, they found one person trapped in a red SUV on the road and a white SUV overturned in a ravine below the road.
Evans City Assistant Fire Chief Justin Schoeffel said he saw a small group of people huddled about 10 feet from the flaming white SUV. Schoeffel said multiple people from the SUV were injured, and he saw one bystander holding a young girl.
Schoeffel said he didn’t hear until later that a couple of track coaches, coincidentally passing the scene, had helped in extracting the young, paralyzed girl from the back seat.
“If they would have still fully been in the car (by the time we arrived), I feel like they would have suffered more injuries,” Schoeffel said.
One of those coaches, Steve Tinker, head coach of the Avonworth Middle School track team, said it was a joint effort by himself and the Seneca Valley middle school track coach, Daniel Dickey, to remove the15-year-old girl from the back of the white SUV.
The girl has since been identified by a few media outlets as Mary Maloney, the daughter of former KDKA reporter Pam Surano.
Surano’s son Michael Maloney, 19, was the vehicle’s driver, and another son James Maloney, 20, was a passenger in the vehicle, according to a state police news release, though the release did not mention the connection to Surano.
According to police, Michael Maloney crashed his white SUV into a red SUV which was attempting to turn left.
Tinker said the driver of his bus, which was on a return trip from the Butler Invitational, noticed a car coming toward them in the same lane.
“As we’re watching the headlights, the lights disappeared,” Tinker said. “My bus missed the accident by no more than 10 or 15 seconds. We started to see debris on the road — car parts. I looked over to the left, and I saw the other car sitting on the road with damage.“
The bus stopped, and Tinker exited. When he saw flames coming from the white SUV below, he asked his assistant coach Ryan Ott to keep the athletes in the bus and gather fire extinguishers from other buses that were now stopping along the road.
Tinker then rushed to the top of the ravine and took in the scene below. He said he didn’t remember making a conscious decision to go down the hillside. He was already halfway down when he had that thought.
“I just thought, well I guess I’m going,” Tinker said. “I felt like I didn’t have a choice.”
Tinker said when he got to the SUV, Michael and James already freed themselves from the vehicle, but they were struggling to get to Mary.
“Michael and James are both saying, my baby sister is still in the car. I literally thought it was a baby,” Tinker said. “I struggled to get it open because it was up against all this brush. I look in, and there’s Mary looking back up at me.”
Mary at 13 suffered a paralyzing injury after falling from a trampoline. Both the injury and her recovery have been widely publicized.
Tinker said he really didn’t connect all that until later, and as he repeatedly failed to open the SUV’s door and reach Mary simultaneously, he began to panic. Tinker said though everyone else was panicking, Mary gave everyone a breath of calm.
“I still can’t get over how calm she was,” Tinker said. “Mary was actually keeping me calm. She kept saying, ‘We’re OK. We’re OK. Everything is fine.’”
After minutes of trying to get to Mary, Tinker was losing the battle. He said the brush kept slamming the door shut as he tried to get into the vehicle.
Tinker said at the exact moment he decided to go up the hill for additional help, Dickey had finished his descent into the ravine.
Dickey stopped briefly to place a tourniquet on one of the brothers. Dickey said, as a seventh-grade math teacher for Seneca Valley, he has received some basic first aid training. He said it’s the type of training some may take for granted.
“You kind of go through the motions a little bit, and you’re not expecting to have to use some of that stuff,” Dickey said. “I’m very thankful for that kind of training.”
Dickey then hopped onto the vehicle with Tinker, and as the latter lifted the door, Dickey’s hands extended into the back seat.
“I reached in and grabbed her out,” Dickey said. “I ended up just holding on to her. I didn’t want to set her down.”
After getting Mary out of the vehicle, the two coaches went in separate directions in further assisting at the scene.
Dickey said he kept hold of Mary, talking to her trying to keep her and her brothers calm. He couldn’t help but be amazed by her.
“She was the one who was kind of trying to help her brothers and others down there maintain some calm,” Dickey said. “She’s saying, ‘We’re going to be alright. We’re going to get out of this.’ That was very cool.”
Tinker used the fire extinguishers to keep the flames at bay. He used about five in all.
“The flames would go out for a little bit, and then they would reignite,“ he said.
Dickey said one of those fire extinguishers came from his bus, and one of his athletes was the one who found it and handed it to Ott.
"This is a pretty intense experience, but I'm proud of them for getting involved in handing off the fire extinguishers," Dickey said.
A few minutes later, those at the bottom of the ravine could hear sirens and saw red, blue and white lights flashing on the trees overhead.
Tinker said he went up the hill, spoke briefly to firefighters to explain the status of the fire and then went to tend to his team.
Once he saw EMTs rushing down the hill, Dickey handed Mary over to them. Dickey said at the time, he was in shock, but he later felt a great appreciation for the emergency responders who arrived to take over.
“This is something I happen to cross one time. The likelihood of this happening again is pretty low,” he said. “The emergency responders, EMS, the firefighters — they have to seek this out every day, and it blows my mind. It's an impressive thing they do."
Schoeffel said upon the first units’ arrival, the scene was quite chaotic, but thanks to their training and experience, firefighters, EMTs and police worked in tandem.
Schoeffel said as units arrived, they separated into teams.
"(Harmony EMS) was first (EMS unit) on scene,“ he said. ”They immediately sent someone down over the hillside to start assessing patients."
Aid also was rendered to another man who was in the vehicle with the Maloneys. Schoeffel said EMTs encountered him on the road.
Though the two coaches did not see him, firefighters also found Anthony Recker, 18, who also was in Maloney’s vehicle. The state police listed him as having a suspected serious injury.
A team of firefighters also set to work on the ravine, using ropes to pull up patients. Another team worked on the fire, knocking it down quickly.
Schoeffel said those fighting the fire had the added complication of leaking fluids and nearby brush made reignition likely.
“It took a lot to keep it from kicking back up,” Schoeffel said.
Another team went to work on the red SUV sitting on the road with one person trapped in the driver’s seat. Firefighters tore off the driver’s side door and removed Michelle Alexander, 42, of Monaca, who was taken by ambulance for a suspected minor injury.
Schoefell said other teams stopped traffic along the road and established a landing zone for two helicopters. Those helicopters flew two patients to Pittsburgh hospitals, and one of them was Mary.
Schoeffel said while the accident was complex in terms of response and resulted in injuries, the emergency units performed at a high level to minimize risks involved.
“All-in-all everything on our end and the EMS end I thought went fairly smooth,” he said.
After emergency crews arrived, the coaches watched and waited for their turn to exit the scene.
Dickey said that included a lot of curiosity on the part of his athletes.
"They handled it really well. They were asking if everybody was OK,“ he said. ”They kind of wanted to know what happened. I left out some of the details, but I told them that everyone was alive."
Tinker said it was a late night, and he, too, worried about what would happen to those he helped. He said in the time since the crash, he has connected with the Maloney family in a limited capacity, and he has been informed Mary and her brothers are on the road to recovery.
“I’m just grateful they made it through this,“ Tinker said.
Dickey said he, too, was relieved to find out they were doing better. He said he was also thankful Tinker was there when he arrived.
“It made it easier to get involved knowing someone else was there,” Dickey said.
Tinker said he gave a lot of credit to Dickey.
“Without Dan showing up, things could have turned out a lot worse,” Tinker said. “I couldn’t have done it without him.”
As of Sunday, multiple attempts to reach out to Pam Surano about her family were unsuccessful.