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A tractor-trailer crashed into a van carrying mentally disabled people on a trip to the Pittsburgh Zoo on the morning of April 25.  The van flipped on its side and was crushed against a building; five people died and seven were injured.

According to witnesses, the van was stopped at an intersection and then pulled in from of the tractor-trailer. The accident occurred at 9:45 a.m. in Somerset Township, which is 30 miles south of Pittsburgh.

The van was carrying 11 people. Five of them were killed — three residents and two staff members. Six other residents inside were taken to area hospitals. The tractor-trailer driver also was treated and released from a hospital.

Investigators do not believe that the tractor-trailer was speeding.  The vehicle has been removed to be inspected.  The driver of the vehicle was Stephen Rouse, 44.

The van was flipped on its side and pushed roof-first into a building.  This caused the vehicle’s roof to cave in.  Two of the victims who died were removed shortly after the accident, but the bodies of the driver and two residents has to cut from the demolished van.  By mid-afternoon all the bodies had been recovered.

Killed in the crash were: the driver, Sheryl Maiolini, 53, of Charleroi; staff member Mary Watkins, 43, of Ellsworth; and residents John Maise, 61, Richard Paquet, 43, and Julie Hugus, 41.  The injured residents included three men and three women who range in age from 48 to 58 years old.

Two of the victims have been released from the hospital and the others incurred non-fatal injuries including a broken clavicle, a broken hip, and head, neck and spinal injuries.

According to Jeff Breen of the Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation, the intersection at which the accident occurred has safety issues.  He said that the PennDOT had an upgrade planned for the dangerous intersection.  Motorists traveling north and south do not have to stop at the intersection while motorists going east and west do.  There have been numerous accidents due to the confusion.

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