Nathan Vogel is recuperating in Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown after a horrific five-vehicle crash Monday morning on Route 56 near Pleasantville that left two truck drivers dead.
"I was lucky, considering the circumstances," said Vogel, 20, of Johnstown.
Vogel was traveling the mountain just before 6:30 a.m., heading to his job as a welder with Corle Building Systems in Imler.
Nathan Vogel, who was involved in a fatal car crash on Monday in Pleasantville, was flown by medical helicopter to Memorial Medical Center, where he is being treated for a broken sternum, sprained neck, fluid build-up in his spine, a fractured disc and trauma to his heart and lungs.
"I always take that way to work," Vogel said.
Vogel, driving his 1997 Pontiac Grand Am, and several other drivers passed an ice cream truck driven by Jeffrey D. Fonner, 40, of Folcroft, Pa., in a passing zone on a straightaway. At the time, Fonner's truck was going about 15 miles per hour, Vogel estimated.
Not long afterward, Vogel was hit by the fast-moving truck. He said his car flipped and ended up in the other lane, its roof collapsed on top of him.
"I realized something was wrong when the truck started slamming on his horn," Vogel said. "I looked into my mirror and I saw the truck picking up speed, fast."
Vogel was flown by medical helicopter to Memorial Medical Center, where he is being treated for a broken sternum, sprained neck, fluid build-up in his spine, a fractured disc and trauma to his heart and lungs.
Vogel's girlfriend of four years, Katelyne Golby of Johnstown, knew something was wrong when she didn't get her daily phone call from Vogel letting her know he got to work. At 8 a.m., she was in class at Penn Highlands Community College when his parents called and told her about the crash.
Golby dropped everything and headed for the hospital.
"The days since have been rough," Golby said of Vogel's recovery. "We are taking it one day at a time. He is in a lot of pain and under a lot of stress. He asks the questions like 'Why me?' and 'How did I make it?' To this day, I still do not know how Nathan made it out alive. He was extremely lucky."
Rob Knieriem, 21, of Salix was driving directly behind Vogel on the mountain on his way to work as an intern for PennDOT in Everett.
Knieriem also passed Fonner's truck on the straightaway midway up the mountain.
"After a minute or so, looking in my side view mirror, I saw the truck barreling down in the other lane on the windy portion of the road," Knieriem recalled. "I didn't know what to think at the time. I hit the brakes. The trucker passed and then swerved in front of me, and that's when he lost control of the truck and debris went flying everywhere."
Knieriem said he speculates that the truck lost its brakes and Fonner was trying to pass the cars in his lane and reach the bottom of the hill.
"But when he saw the tanker coming in the opposite direction, he swerved back into the right lane, hitting the Grand Am and laying the truck over, which side-swiped the tanker," he said.
According to police, the ice cream truck first hit Vogel's vehicle, then rolled over as it hit a tanker carrying refrigerated liquid carbon dioxide and two other vehicles.
Both Fonner and the tanker driver, Joseph D. Knouse, 41, of Fort Ashby, West Va., were pronounced dead at the scene. Two people in the fourth car hit were uninjured, while Mary Kauffman, 51, of Osterburg was also flown to the Johnstown hospital and later released.
Knieriem estimates the trucker's speed at close to 80 miles per hour at the time of the accident.
Knieriem was uninjured and joined other witnesses in looking for a way to help the injured on scene.
"A couple of us used sign post as leverage to pop up the Grand Am's roof, trying to help anyone trapped inside," he said. "I ended up finding the man from the tanker, but he was non-responsive."
The last few days of driving that same stretch of road have caused Knieriem to feel "kind of paranoid."
"I got lucky, that's all," Knieriem said. "My heart goes out to the family and people who weren't as lucky."
Mirror Staff Writer Wendy Zook is at 946-7520.