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Chaotic incident that killed Pa. medic described by witnesses

A series of vehicle collisions occurred before an out-of-control dump truck came around a curve and slammed into paramedic Livingston

By Ron Musselman
The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Eric Sager of Boswell and Joe Tavalsky of Johnstown were eyewitnesses to Monday’s trio of accidents that ultimately claimed the life of West End Ambulance Service paramedic Janice Livingston.

Upper Yoder Township police Chief Walter Howell said a state police official told him on Tuesday the reconstruction of the accident could take up to two months.

But Tavalsky and Sager said they recall vividly the series of crashes that ended with a coal truck striking and killing Livingston.

Sager was on the scene from the outset. He had plowed snow into the wee hours of the morning on Monday and was on his way home.

His gray dump truck was behind a southbound school bus that had stopped to pick up children on an icy part of Route 271 at Fender Lane in Upper Yoder Township.

A white FedEx truck came sliding down the small grade and slid into the southbound lane, Sager said, but it didn’t hit anything. He said there still was enough room for the bus to go around the FedEx truck and proceed.

“As soon as the bus pulled out, I let my foot off the gas pedal, and saw a blue Jeep come around the bend, out of control,” Sager said on Tuesday.

“I knew right there that there was no way that vehicle was going to slow down. It smashed into back of the FedEx truck and pushed it into the back of a black pickup truck.”

The black pickup was driven by Tavalsky.

“The Jeep went up along the guardrail and eventually came to rest,” Sager said. “It was in pretty bad shape.”

Sager said the young man who had been driving the Jeep got out of the vehicle and retreated to a nearby van across the street.

As Sager was calling 911 to report the accident, which he said involved no serious injuries, Tavalsky was searching for his insurance card.

“I pulled up 60 or 70 yards and got out and started to walk back to exchange information,” he said. “At that point, I saw a light tan-colored car come screaming around the corner and it crashed into the telephone pole.”

The impact of the second crash sheared the telephone pole in half.

The top part of it came to rest on the hood of the FedEx truck.

“I had just gotten off the phone with 911 from the first accident and within 30 seconds there was another one,” Sager said. “Not only did the car snap the pole, there were sparks flying, wires were down and everyone at the scene was in a panic mode.

“I called 911 again and this time I said there was another accident with a definite injury and possible entrapment.”

A police officer, a fire rescue truck and two ambulances eventually arrived on the scene. Livingston was in one of the ambulances.

“They got the lady out of the car that hit the pole,” Sager said.

“She was covered in blood and they put her in an ambulance and left.”

As Sager made his way toward the northbound side of the road and entered a nearby yard, Tavalsky moved his car out of the northbound lane.

They said that’s when a coal truck came around the curve and slammed into Livingston.

She was pronounced dead at 10:35 a.m. on Monday by Cambria County Coroner Dennis Kwiatkowski.

“When you look up and see a 20-ton coal truck coming straight at you and it is out of control and going about 40 mph, all you can do is scream at the top of your lungs and take off running,” Sager said.

“The nearby homeowner who had put her girl on the bus was running, but the snow was so deep. It was up to her knees.

“I was running toward her house, too. The cop scampered across the road and the firefighter went toward his truck, which was parked on the road. The paramedic was trying to run. ...”

Livingston had been on the scene for about 10 minutes with the West End Ambulance Service unit, according to Sager.

Even after the coal truck hit her, the road remained open to traffic.

“Cars were still coming around the corner. ... ” Sager said.

He added: “In fact, another coal truck came around the same curve after the third accident and it got stopped, but it had to back up the hill and then turn around to go the other way.”

Tavalsky said:“I still can’t understand why no one was stopping traffic after the (tan car) hit the pole. Maybe this wouldn’t have happened if someone had.”

Sager and Tavalsky both said they gave statements to Upper Yoder Township police.

Sager, who owns Vinco Pizza at 2755 William Penn Ave., Johns-town, said he plans to donate 10 percent of his sales Wednesday to the Livingston family.

Tavalsky said he grew up in the West End of Johnstown and said he knew Livingston and her family.

“She lived a few houses down from my sister,” he said. “And my dad is in his 70s and she would give him his flu shots.

“It’s just such a terrible situation, a terrible sequence of events.”

©2015 The Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, Pa.)