In a pair of horrific scenes Saturday that compounded the tragedy of a recent fatal fire in eastern Pennsylvania, a man plowed his car into a fund-raising event for families affected by that fire, killing one and injuring 17, then drove off and fatally beat a woman before the police arrested him, the authorities said.
Four of the injured in the crash in Berwick, a borough about 45 miles southwest of Scranton, were in critical condition late Saturday, said Joseph H. Stender III, a spokesman for Geisinger Medical Center, where many of the victims were taken. The woman was found dead in neighboring Nescopeck, which was the site of the fatal fire on Aug. 5 that tore through a two-story home and killed 10 people.
The fund-raiser was meant to benefit the victims and families of the house fire, including Harold Baker, a volunteer firefighter who responded to the fire and ended up losing his 22-year-old daughter and 19-year-old son, as well as six other family members, in the blaze. Among those killed in the fire in Nescopeck were three children, ages 5, 6 and 7, the Pennsylvania State Police said. The oldest victim was 79.
In another cruel twist, just eight days after the fire, Mr. Baker responded to the scene Saturday in Nescopeck, where the woman was killed. He said a daughter-in-law and several other relatives had been injured, and an aunt of his daughter-in-law had been killed, in the crash at the fund-raiser. “I haven’t processed the fire yet and now I got to deal with this,” he said.
In a statement late Saturday, the Pennsylvania State Police called the crime scenes “very active.” The statement said the suspect had been arrested by local police at the scene of the beating death, and was in the custody of the state police awaiting criminal charges. His name was not released.
The crash on Saturday night added another wave of grief to a small community devastated by the Aug. 5 fire that the authorities described as “violent” and “forceful.” The cause of the fire has not been released. At a news conference late Saturday, Trooper Anthony Petroski said the suspect in Saturday’s deaths was not currently a suspect in the fire, according to The Times-Leader of Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Area residents struggled to process what had happened in barely more than a week’s time. The confusion and anger of locals was compounded because there were so many unanswered questions about the fire, Robin Massina, a Berwick resident who is the daughter of the Nescopeck mayor, said in an interview late Saturday.
“What is this madness?” Ms. Massina said. “Why is it happening? We’re a small town that probably hasn’t been in the news since the flood of like 1978.”
She said that the community pulled together after the fire, and that she believed enough money had been raised so that families could bury their loved ones and get back on their feet. The event on Saturday demonstrated the community’s spirit, but the violence that followed destroyed the healing process.
Before the crash, Lauren Hess, the owner of Intoxicology Department, the bar and restaurant that hosted the benefit, said she had quickly planned the event to help people affected by the fire, according to WNEP, a station based in Scranton. Donations from the community had poured in, she said.
“I got a call on Friday and I was immediately like, ‘What can I do to help because they are going through so much grief and pain?’” Ms. Hess told the station, adding that she was friends with mothers who lost children in the fire.
The event had started joyously, with scenes of laughing children, country music and water-balloon fights. “It’s going to be an amazing day!” organizers had posted on Facebook early Saturday.
The bar posted a statement late Saturday on Facebook calling the day “an absolute tragedy” and said that it would be closed until further notice.
Ms. Massina, the Nescopeck mayor’s daughter, said that the community rarely saw violence “other than your stupid Saturday night bar fights.”
“And now it’s devastation after devastation literally a few days apart,” she said.
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