21-year-old dies in wrong-way crash

An Altoona man lost his life early Friday after crashing into a garbage truck.

Jordan T. Graham, 21, died instantly after the 2000 Honda sedan he was driving the wrong direction down one-way Sixth Avenue, sped through the 17th Street intersection and struck the side of a Burgmeier’s Hauling garbage truck as it drove through a green light at around 4 a.m., according to Altoona police and Blair County Coroner Patricia Ross.

A witness to the crash, Dave Duncan of Altoona, said he was driving in the left lane of Sixth Avenue approaching 17th Street when he noticed headlights and police lights in the distance on Sixth Avenue heading straight at him.

“I decided I wanted to get the heck off the road,” Duncan said, adding before he pulled into an adjacent driveway he saw Graham’s Honda, its lights off, sped through the intersection, in his lane, and into the side of the truck.

Duncan said he was “paralyzed” by what he saw. It was like “an explosion” when the car hit the truck, Duncan said.

Duncan said he got out of his vehicle and saw several Altoona police officers, guns drawn and shouting, surround the smashed Honda.

Altoona Police Chief Janice Freehling said Friday, “There was a pursuit involved.”

The pursuit will be reviewed when all reports are completed as per department policy, she said, adding the officer involved in the pursuit will be on desk duty until completion of the review.

In a press release issued earlier Friday, Altoona police didn’t mention a pursuit, only that Altoona police “initiated an investigation regarding a vehicle crash” and that “witnesses stated that this vehicle was traveling at a high rate of speed” as it approached the intersection.

Police said the Honda hit the rear side of the truck with such force its back end became airborne before the car pirouetted and came to rest in the southbound lane of 17th Street. The truck stopped about 500 feet from the intersection. The driver of the truck was not seriously injured, police said.

Graham’s family was left devastated by the accident, a family member said Friday.

“He was a family-first kind of person,” said Jordan Graham’s cousin, Thad Graham. Jordan Graham was the kind of guy who kept his word, his cousin said, and was loyal and dependable if not somewhat of a jokester.

Thad Graham recalled one morning when the pair, along with other relatives and friends, were gathered at the Altoona Waffle House before the last day of deer hunting season. The waitress asked Jordan Graham how he “wanted his eggs” and after giving her a confused look, he shot back, “Cooked.”

Thad Graham said his cousin was heavy as a kid and had lost nearly 300 pounds, although his nickname “Ham” still stuck.

Thad Graham said his cousin in recent years hadn’t been the silly, funny kid his family once knew. He had been troubled but the family had thought he was turning things around, he said.

“Only Jordan knows why he did what he did,” Thad Graham said of the events leading up to the crash Friday morning. “He had a lot of things on his mind and was in a bad spot in his life.”

Ross said an autopsy would be performed as well as toxicology testing. An Altoona police accident reconstructionist is working on the case, police said, and the investigation into the crash continues.

Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.