3 die in U.S. 24 crash near Defiance

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 1

DEFIANCE — A father and two of his sons were killed last night when the pickup truck they were riding in was crushed by a Greyhound bus on U.S. 24, about five miles west of here, according to the Ohio Highway Patrol.

James Unger, 32, and his sons, Cody, 9, and Dustin, 15 months, all of Paulding, who were passengers in the pickup, were pronounced dead at the scene, troopers at the patrol’s Defiance post said.

Mr. Unger’s wife, Dawn, 21, the driver of the pickup, and another of Mr. Unger’s sons, Jason, 11, were airlifted to Parkview Hospital, Fort Wayne, Ind.

Mrs. Unger and Jason were listed as critical last night.

The bus, en route from Detroit to Indianapolis, had stopped in Toledo, Napoleon, and Defiance before the crash. It was westbound on U.S. 24 at 6:10 p.m. when Mrs. Unger, driving east, attempted to turn left on to The Bend Road and pulled in front of the bus.

The bus driver, James Blake, 52, of Belleville, Mich., told troopers he swerved right in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid the pickup.

The bus slammed into the passenger side of the truck, and both vehicles came to rest in a ditch at the northwest corner of the intersection.

The bus carried 32 people, including the driver. Five passengers were treated in Defiance Hospital.

Troopers said that nobody in the pickup was using seat belts or child restraints.

The collision created pandemonium inside the bus.

One passenger, Mary McGee, of Detroit, escaped by jumping through a window, injuring her hand in the process.

“I was looking down and then I heard everyone screaming ‘The bus is going off the road.'” Ms. McGee was traveling to Fort Wayne to visit her sisters.

The Rev. John Hess, of First Presbyterian Church in Defiance, who is chaplain to a variety of Defiance County law enforcement and fire departments, arrived at the scene to counsel the bus passengers, many of whom had a clear view of the impact.

Mr. Hess said two bus passengers gave him cash to purchase flowers for the funerals of the victims.

U.S. 24 between Waterville and the Indiana line has a reputation as a narrow, twisting, and dangerous road.

Last year, 10 people lost their lives on the road.

Before yesterday’s accident, two people had died on the road this year, and law enforcement authorities said those fatalities were not the fault of the highway.

One victim was believed to have suffered a heart attack, and the other to have fallen asleep at the wheel.

The highway patrol credits an enforcement campaign with reducing the number accidents by more than 20 per cent this year.

Through August, state troopers, sheriff’s deputies, and local police wrote 5,448 tickets and issued 4,775 warnings during the campaign, and worked more than 1,000 hours of overtime.

The Ohio Department of Transportation has made safety upgrades on U.S. 24 between Napoleon and Waterville, one of the road’s most dangerous segments.

A shoulder widening and resurfacing project begun in July is to be done by the end of the month.

A group called the Fort to Port Improvement Organization, composed of representatives from Ohio and Indiana, would like to see a U.S. 24 freeway replace the old road between Waterville and Fort Wayne. Higher tolls on the Ohio Turnpike have been blamed for much of the increased traffic on U.S. 24.

Several area school boards and Toledo city council have adopted resolutions demanding that turnpike tolls be lowered.