(Evans City, Pennsylvania – May 4, 2013)
A second victim of last week’s collision has succumbed to injuries he suffered in the accident. The incident occurred in Allegheny Valley, which involved a freight train travelling on tracks leased from CSX by the Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad striking a minibus at the dangerous, unguarded and fogged over railroad grade crossing of Maple Avenue in Evans City, PA
John D. Burkett, 88, of Butler became the second fatality incurred in the tragedy, which continues to be front-page news, when he passed away Saturday at Butler Memorial Hospital, where he had been transferred after five days of treatment at the trauma unit of Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA. The first death was that of Callery, PA resident Claudette Miller, 91, who died at Allegheny General several hours after the Friday morning, April 26, accident which injured all 10 passengers aboard the Butler Area Rural Transportation minibus, as well as the bus driver, Frank Schaffner, 59, of Butler, PA.
Miller’s life was commemorated in song and prayer Sunday at the Crestview Community Presbyterian Church in Callery, PA, where Claudette had served more than two decades as a Sunday School teacher.
“We were all in shock, but she’s in glory now and a whole lot better than we are,” proclaimed Nancy Smith, a friend and fellow church member. “She was nice, she was giving,” Smith recalled of the woman who also served as Postmaster for Callery’s post office for a quarter of a century.
Lifesteps Center, the Butler destination for the BART busload of elderly and special needs adults, was a regular Monday-Wednesday-Friday affair for Ms. Miller, where she was remembered by staff like Lori Williamson, who helped care for Claudette. “She just enjoyed being with the folks who are here”, said Miller, who added that “She was a sweet little lady. When she would be leaving in the afternoon, whoever was helping to walk her out, she’d say to give her a kiss and you’d have to give her a kiss and then you’d have to bend down so she could give you a kiss.”
A craft project Miller was working on before her death remained unfinished at Lifesteps Center, a silent tribute to a woman whose affection and social ability touched many lives.
Meanwhile, Butler Attorney Michael Pawk continued to defend the actions of his client, BART bus driver Schaffner, from the news media assaults created by “spin doctors” as they attempted to redirect blame for the tragedy away from railroad responsibility.
One of the accusations against the driver was that he had over-the-counter medicine, identified as fiber supplements and antacid tablets in a bottle not labeled for the contents thereof. Pawk said his client “put those in old prescription bottles he had on the bus with him and he gave those to police at the scene and told them what they were.” Results on the toxicology tests of post-accident blood samples drawn from the driver are still a work in process, but Pawk affirmed the report, once received, will prove that his client “had nothing in him that would have impaired his ability to drive the bus that day.”
Although railroad personnel aboard the train claimed they saw the minibus stopped on the crossing, Pawk countered that Schaffner stopped the minibus before reaching the fog-enshrouded crossing, looked in both directions, and then preceded slowly across the tracks. “As he was crossing the tracks slowly, one of the passengers yelled ‘Frank’, and that’s when he heard a whistle and he saw the train,” explained Pawk.