Latest crash on Ruskin Drive leads to scrutiny

Two teenagers suffered traumatic injuries

A Good Friday crash on Ruskin Drive that led to a recent City Council discussion about safety on that thoroughfare left two teens with traumatic injuries.

Brendan Newberry, 18, of Altoona, a front seat passenger, broke his femur — or thigh bone, the biggest bone in the body — suffered a concussion and has Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome from the accident, according to his mother, Susan Newberry.

Jessica Cronmiller, 15, of Altoona, Newberry’s girlfriend and a backseat passenger in the car, suffered a concussion, four broken ribs, a cut in the head that led to 16 stitches, a blood clot in her arm, a dislocated shoulder and PTSD, according to her mother, Chrissy Cronmiller.

Newberry spent five days in the hospital, then two weeks in a nursing facility before coming home, according to his mother.

The break in his femur resulted in the complete separation of the bone sections, according to his mother.

To repair it, doctors placed a rod through the core of both sections, ac­cording to his grandmother, Sherri Holmberg.

The rod will remain there for life, his grandmother said.

Newberry may end up with a permanent limp, according to his mother.

Newberry played George B. Kelley Federation baseball and church-league basketball, but likely won’t play sports again, his mother said.

The PTSD first manifested itself at the nursing home, when Newberry woke up screaming, his heart racing, breathing fast and in a panic, his mother said.

A senior at Altoona Area High School, Newberry will take the rest of his classes at home, his mother said.

Jessica, who was taken to the intensive care unit at UPMC Altoona, has awakened in the middle of the night screaming “Stop! Stop!” according to her mother. Because of her brain injury, doctors haven’t given her medications for the PTSD, her mother said.

Jessica has no memory of the crash, her mother said.

She, too, is being home-schooled for now.

The driver of the car was David J. Brunner, 18, who was cited by Altoona police for driving at an unsafe speed.

The “prime factor” in the crash was “driving too fast for conditions,” according to the police report.

Brunner told police he hydroplaned when he came around the curve north of Elm Spring Drive, according to the report.

The Volkswagen Jetta that Brunner was driving struck a tree head-on, according to neighbor Richard Slutzker.

Brunner ended up with a broken wrist, according to Susan Newberry.

A 16-year-old girl was also a rear-seat passenger, but wasn’t hurt badly, according to Cronmiller.

Susan Newberry is a respiratory therapist at UPMC Altoona and she was working when the crash occurred.

She responded to the trauma unit, not knowing the identity of anyone involved in the accident.

Jessica, her son’s girlfriend, arrived first.

Susan didn’t recognize her, because “she was covered in blood from head to toe,” Susan said.

The 16-year-old victim, whom Susan did not know, arrived next.

After that came the driver, a friend of her son’s.

“He was yelling and screaming, crying and upset,” Susan said.

“Hey, what happened?” she asked him.

“He looked at me real scared,” Susan said.

Doctors, meanwhile, were saying that a fourth victim who was on the way was in the worst shape of all.

Brunner said, “‘That’s Brendan,'” according to Susan.

“I freaked out,” she said.

The sound of the crash brought Slutzker out of his house, at which point he called 911.

“I’m at a loss (for) words,” Slutzker said, when asked what the crash sounded like. “Smash, boom, a dead-weight time of major energy striking another object.”

He’s heard his share of crashes on Ruskin, but never one like that, he said.

The speed limit there is 25 mph, so a vehicle going 35 is exceeding that limit by 40 percent, Slutzker observed.

The absolute speed — 35 mph — may not sound fast, but the more important factor is the percentage of excess, he said.

That same percentage applied to I-99, where the speed limit is 70 mph, produces a speed of 98 mph — which almost everyone concedes is really fast, Slutzker said.

Ruskin is essentially an old farm road — narrow, with no sidewalks — which creates a safety problem, he said.

For traffic heading toward the city from 58th Street, there’s a straight stretch before the curve where the crash occurred that may lead drivers to increase their speed to unsafe levels, Slutzker said.

Stop signs before and after the curve at a few intersections might help, he said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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