Driver kills 1 and injures 17 at Pennsylvania benefit, then kills another, police say
By Vimal Patel
In a pair of horrific scenes Saturday night that compounded the tragedy of a recent fatal fire in eastern Pennsylvania, a man plowed his car into a fundraising event for families affected by that fire, killing one and injuring 17, then drove off and fatally beat a woman before police arrested him, authorities said.
The suspect, identified by police as Adrian Oswaldo Sura Reyes, 24, was arraigned on two counts of homicide and denied bail. He is being held at the Columbia County Correctional Facility.
Five of the injured in the crash in Berwick, a borough about 45 miles southwest of Scranton, Pennsylvania, were in critical condition Sunday morning, said Matt Mattei, a spokesperson for Geisinger Medical Center, where many of the victims were taken.
The woman was found dead in neighboring Nescopeck, which was the site of the fatal fire Aug. 5 that tore through a two-story home and killed 10 people.
Further information about the victims was not available Sunday morning.
The fundraiser was meant to benefit the victims and families of the house fire, including Harold Baker, a volunteer firefighter who responded to the fire and ended up losing his 22-year-old daughter and 19-year-old son, as well as six other family members, in the blaze. Among those killed in the fire in Nescopeck were three children, ages 5, 6 and 7, the Pennsylvania State Police said. The oldest victim was 79.
In a cruel twist, just eight days after the fire, Baker responded to the scene Saturday in Nescopeck, where the woman was killed. He said a daughter-in-law and several other relatives had been injured, and an aunt of his daughter-in-law had been killed, in the crash at the fundraiser.
“I haven’t processed the fire yet, and now I got to deal with this,” he said.
The crash Saturday night added another wave of grief to a small community devastated by the fire that was described as “violent” and “forceful.” The cause of the fire has not been released. At a news conference late Saturday, trooper Anthony Petroski said the suspect in Saturday’s deaths was not currently a suspect in the fire, according to The Times-Leader of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
Area residents struggled to process what had happened in barely more than a week’s time. The confusion and anger were compounded because there were so many unanswered questions about the fire, Robin Massina, a Berwick resident who is the daughter of the Nescopeck mayor, said in an interview late Saturday.
“What is this madness?” Massina said. “Why is it happening? We’re a small town that probably hasn’t been in the news since the flood of like 1978.”
She said that the community had pulled together after the fire and that she believed enough money had been raised so that families could bury their loved ones and get back on their feet. The event Saturday demonstrated the community’s spirit, but the violence that followed destroyed the healing process.
Before the crash, Lauren Hess, owner of Intoxicology Department, the bar and restaurant that hosted the benefit, said she had quickly planned the event to help people affected by the fire, according to WNEP, a TV station based in Scranton. Donations from the community had poured in, she said.
“I got a call on Friday, and I was immediately like, ‘What can I do to help because they are going through so much grief and pain?’” Hess told the station, adding that she was friends with mothers who lost children in the fire.
The event had started joyously, with scenes of laughing children, country music and water-balloon fights. “It’s going to be an amazing day!” organizers had posted on Facebook early Saturday.
The bar posted a statement late Saturday on Facebook calling the day “an absolute tragedy” and said that it would be closed until further notice.
Massina said that the community rarely saw violence “other than your stupid Saturday night bar fights.”
“And now it’s devastation after devastation, literally a few days apart,” she said.