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People in Conemaugh Twp. say rotted trees have always been a problem

Updated: Tuesday, June 24 2014, 10:22 PM EDT

By: Maria Miller

CONEMAUGH TOWNSHIP, Pa.  -- Those who were first at the scene of a terrible accident in Somerset County Monday afternoon are still emotional as everyone tries to understand how and why such a tragedy could happen.

It's been just one day since a tree fell onto a car traveling along Tire Hill Road in Conemaugh Township. The car then slammed into a utility pole. Two children were killed.

"You're always asking questions, but you never get the answers," said Adam Trabold, a paramedic with Conemaugh Township EMS and one of the first responders on scene.

The young victims have been identified as Macayla Freiwald, 6, and her sister Ryleigh Freiwald, 8. Two of their sisters were also hurt, as well as their pregnant mother, Ashley Lichty, and her boyfriend, Jason Himebaugh. Both of them remain in serious condition at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center.

On Tuesday night, 6 News talked with Himebaugh's mom, who said her family is shattered and in desperate need of prayers.

"Pray for my son and my daughter-in-law and granddaughter that is still here. And my babies that we lost," said Carole Varner.

Earlier Tuesday, 6 News spoke with Adam Trabold, who tried his very best to save lives.

"I was the only paramedic. I tried to triage the patients as best I could," Trabold said. "This was one of the worst accidents I've seen in a long time."

Investigators said all indications point to it just being a freak accident. They said the tree was rotten at its roots, which caused it to fall.

Anyone who has ever been on Route 403 knows the road is surrounded by trees on both sides. People in the area 6 News talked with said rotting trees have been a problem for a long time now. One woman even talked about a tree crashing down on her windshield just last year.

"I just want people to know that this is not a one-time freak accident," she said.

The woman didn't want to show her face, but she did want to talk about what happened to her last year just up the road in the same township as Monday's accident.

"I was going like 30 mile an hour, I had my window open, it was a sunny day and I heard crack," said the woman. "I thought, 'What the heck is that,' and in an instant this log came crashing through my windshield and scattered glass all over my lap and my arm."

The woman said she was taken to the hospital by ambulance with only minor injuries but was told it could have been much worse.

"The EMT gentleman told my husband, 'Oh my God, do you have any idea how fortunate your wife is? If that tree had been back another foot, we'd be putting her in a body bag and not an ambulance."

"Every time I come up that way, I look and I see those trees leaning and I'm thinking that something's going to happen eventually and they're going to fall," said Leonard Russell.

Russell's daughter lives in the house directly behind Monday's accident scene and told 6 News what happened is, unfortunately, something he's seen coming for years.

"This is the second time this has happened that I know of for sure," Russell said. "Two or three years ago, I was working here when a tree came down, almost in the same spot."

"I don't know who is responsible for it, but now two innocent children are dead. Someone needs to be held responsible," said the woman.

It was a freak accident but one some first responders, like Trabold, don't feel could have been prevented.

"I've always been a firm believer when it's your time to go, it's your time to go no matter what you do or what you say," Trabold said. "We're not here to play God. We can only attempt to save life when things happen, but we cannot play God and whenever he makes the decision, it's up to him."

6 News reached out to PennDot to see if it's investigating but only received this statement:

"Until we and investigators know more about the circumstances of this tragedy,  we are reserving comment.”

6 News also spoke with several attorneys to see who might be at fault for the tree crashing down. All either pointed to the state because the tree was along a state route less than 15 feet away from road, in the "right of way." Other attorneys said the incident could be considered an "act of God," meaning no one is to blame because it's something that was out of human control.

People in Conemaugh Twp. say rotted trees have always been a problem

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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times