(North Versailles, Pennsylvania – March 22, 2014)
A veteran volunteer firefighter, husband, father and grandfather, working with a team of search dogs and emergency workers combed an area surrounding railroad tracks and yards for a Wilmerding, PA woman missing since last Monday, was struck and killed early Saturday evening by a Norfolk Southern train that came up behind him as he was performing his search duties.
Edwin J. “Lance” Wentzel, 57, a 35-year member of the Youngwood Volunteer Fire Dept. in Westmoreland County, PA, was pronounced dead in a tragic incident recorded in its entirety by Pittsburgh, PA CBS affiliate television station KDKA, Channel 2 Photographer Bryce Lutz.
“I was shooting video, I was zoomed in, and the guy was walking along the gravel. He walked up onto the tracks and he didn’t see the train coming, didn’t hear it – I don’t know – but it just hit him,” KDKA’s Lutz said of the horrible accident.
The search area for 55-year-old Ruth Mullennix was near the NS railroad tracks beneath the Westinghouse Bridge in North Versailles Township, PA, about 12 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. The missing female’s coat and cell phone had been found Thursday beneath the bridge.
Meanwhile, Norfolk Southern Railway claimed it had no knowledge that the search was being held, and said so in a statement issued after the tragedy occurred.
“The search team had contacted NS to stop trains in the area Thursday at 12:30 A.M. to conduct its search. NS stopped all traffic in compliance with the request. The search team withdrew that request about three hours later at 3:23 A.M., at which point Norfolk Southern resumed normal operations. Neither the NS Police nor the Pittsburgh NS dispatch center were notified on Saturday before the search team resumed its search on Norfolk Southern’s property.”
“We lost a terrific firefighter,” lamented Youngwood VFD Fire Chief Lloyd Crago of the victim, who had been named the 56-member department’s “Firefighter of the Year” in 2012 as well as serving as an assistant chief and trustee. “I lost a best friend in this department, to me and to this town. Lance was a key member of this department,” Crago continued. “He was involved in everything. He was doing what he loved to do to the last minute. It’s tragic, unexpected. We got into this – we know there’s some dangers involved, but when it’s one of our own, one of your own, it hits you a little harder,” the chief concluded to KDKA’s Bob Allen.