The question of who is at fault for the fatal crash of an ambulance and a minivan at the Normal Square intersection on Dec. 28 may forever go unanswered because of the conflicting statements of witnesses and the surviving driver as to which vehicle had the green light at the time.
The recent installation of timed traffic lights, which had replaced blinking lights just 12 days earlier in an effort to make the intersection safer, "must be given some consideration into the cause of this accident," Mahoning Township Police Chief Kenneth Barnes wrote in a report detailing his investigation and conclusions. The report was released Thursday.
The blinking lights – which flashed yellow on Route 443 and red on Mill and Fritz Valley roads – had been in place for decades, Barnes noted.
His investigation involved a state police mechanical review of the vehicles, witness statements and interviews with the ambulance driver.
"Clearly, this was a violent crash that resulted in the death of the driver of (a mini-van). And, as tragic as it is, it is my opinion that this is not a case whereby a homicide by vehicle is warranted," Barnes wrote.
Barnes has charged the driver of the ambulance with driving with an expired inspection sticker and the ambulance owner, Regional EMS of Lehighton, with allowing its employee to drive a vehicle with an expired sticker.
The crash happened at about 8 a.m. when the minivan driven by Linda Hyunh, 62, of Coaldale was pulling onto Route 443 from Mill Road. Her van was struck by an ambulance driven by Eugene Crostley, 36, of Lehighton, in a "T-bone" collision that crushed the driver's side of her van. Hyunh was killed; Crostley was not injured. He has said the vehicle's emergency lights and siren were not activated.
Details in the 14-page report describe the conflicting statements. Two witnesses said that Crostley had the green light; two others said Hyunh did. Crostley, according to the report, said he had the green light.
Barnes wrote on page 5 of his report, under the category of Indicated Prime Factor, Driver Action: Unit 1 (the ambulance) "running red light."
At the accident scene, Barnes asked Crostley what happened.
"He immediately responded, 'This is my fault. I'm so used to the blinking lights here'," Barnes wrote in his report.
He went to see Crostley in the hospital, where he was taken immediately after the accident for examination. Crostley was not injured.
Crostley, Barnes wrote, "was still emotional over the accident." He told Barnes that he "travels that area every day and always slows down in that area."
"I asked him when he realized the light was red and he responded, 'if the light was red, it is my fault. I remember looking at the lights and saw her coming out. She pulled right out in front of me. I hit the brakes and tried to avoid her'," Barnes wrote.
Some time later, Barnes asked Crostley to come to the police station for follow-up questioning and to provide a written statement.
Crostley replied that he had hired a lawyer and "would not be giving a written statement until advised to do so by his attorney," Barnes wrote.
He spoke with Crostley's lawyer, Christopher Shipman of Easton, and on Jan. 14, Crostley gave Barnes this written statement:
"On Dec. 28, 2009, at approximately (8 a.m.), I was traveling west on state Route 443. As I was approaching the traffic light at the intersection I recall the light being green. My approximate speed was 45-50 mph. As I was about 100 yards from the intersection, I saw a blue minivan pull up to the light from the north on Mill Road.
"The minivan stopped for a second and pulled out east on state Route 443. I tried to stop, but it was too short of a distance. I do not recall the light changing. The weather conditions were dry and clear. I was not talking on my cell phone, touching the radio, eating or drinking. I had both hands on the wheel and I was wearing my seat belt," Crostley wrote.
The four witnesses came forward in the days following the crash.
Witnesses No. 1 and No. 2 were in the same vehicle that morning, traveling east on Route 443 approaching the intersection.
Witness No. 1 told Barnes that the light was green for traffic on Route 443. He said he saw the ambulance coming, and that he saw the blue minivan "started to initiate turn into path of ambulance."
Witness No. 2, in the same vehicle, also said the light was green. The van, he said, "turned directly in front of an ambulance traveling west on 443 … I do not think the driver of the ambulance had much time to react when the minivan pulled out in front of him, and I have a clear mental image of the minivan being well out onto 443 before the crash occurred."
Witnesses No. 3 and No. 4 were in a vehicle together on Mill Road, approaching the intersection and just behind Hyunh's van. Witness No. 3 said "the light was green, so I followed the van to the light. The van went into the intersection and I noticed the light changed to yellow so I stopped. As soon as I stopped, the van was hit by the ambulance from the left side very hard, apparently he went through the red light."
Barnes wrote that witness No. 3 told him he had gone to the ambulance after the crash and "asked the man if he was all right. He said yes and he told me he couldn't believe he forgot the light."
Witness No. 4 told Barnes the minivan "undoubtedly had the green light."
Barnes, in his report, said witness No. 3's statement was "more prominent" than the others because of his proximity and "clear, unobstructed vision of the scene."
His report, Barnes wrote, "speaks for itself, and clearly, there are conflicting statements from the driver of (the ambulance) and witnesses as to whether or not either driver had a green or red light at the time this fatal crash occurred."
The investigation and report were reviewed by the Carbon County District Attorney's Office, and the case is now considered closed, Barnes said.