Car plunged off same bridge as tanker before span opened in 1969
EXCELSIOR - Monday's crash of a milk tanker truck off a bridge on a curvy section of Route 901 wasn't the first bizarre accident at the site.
In fact, before the bridge was even formally open to the public, a car plunged off the same span. In that 1969 incident and again on Monday, the people involved survived the 40-foot drop.
Sadly, the bridge, and a stretch of highway near it, have been the scene of two recent tragedies, too.
Snow to blame in 1969
On Nov. 15, 1969, a Ranshaw man and a female passenger escaped with only abrasions after the 1967 vehicle in which they were traveling careened off the bridge abutment. The accident occurred after the new bridge and connecting segment of Route 901 was completed but before it officially opened.
Frank Motto, then 42, was operating the vehicle west toward Ranshaw when he lost control on the snow-covered road. The vehicle landed on its roof on the railroad tracks below.
The recent accidents have resulted in fatalities.
On Jan. 16, 2012, Sheena (Camp) Picarella died of blunt force trauma to the head and neck after she was ejected from a truck that flipped over a guardrail and onto an embankment near the abutment.
According to a witness, the truck was traveling east on Route 901 in icy conditions when it slid sideways onto the concrete bridge at a slight curve in the road. It was likely in the process of flipping over when it traveled across the road and struck the top of the westbound guard rail with its roof, the witness said.
It traveled another 70 feet east and went 20 feet down the embankment before it came to rest on its side against two small trees.
In February 2011, Deborah Demshock was found dead in her car down a 50-foot embankment near the bridge days after she was reported missing. Northumberland County Coroner James F. Kelley said her death was accidental and caused by hypothermia, adding Demshock, who was diabetic, may have had a medical emergency just before her car left the road.
Coal Township Police Chief William Carpenter said the curve and the bridge are not part of the worst stretch of Route 901 in the township.
"We don't have a lot of accidents in that stretch; it's not a bad stretch of highway for us," Carpenter said. "Sometimes the bridge is a problem in the winter. Any bridge can get a little icy, but that is a bridge problem."
He said the worst area for accidents on Route 901 is at the curve in Excelsior, just a short distance from the bridge, where the sharp curve and speeding vehicles lead to crashes. Officers have been assigned to enforce speed limits in that area.
Carpenter said the township has several state highways and townships roads with a varying amount of accidents. The worst, he said, is Route 61.
"When we patrol, we try to mix it up. We spread our time to different roadways in the township. The bigger the problem, the more time we spend there," he said. "Route 61 is a bigger problem than (Route) 901."
Carpenter said other areas of concern include roads leading toward the grounds of Shamokin Area School District, especially during back-to-school time.
"Different times of the year, we focus our attention in different areas," he said. "We get out to (Route) 901 as much as we can, but we have a lot of other areas."