One person died and another 17 people were injured when a car plowed into a crowd gathered at a Pennsylvania bar Saturday evening for a fundraiser benefiting families devastated by a house fire that killed 10 earlier this month, according to authorities.
The driver was arrested shortly afterward in connection with the beating death of his mother nearby, police added.
The crash occurred at about 6.15pm outside the Intoxicology Department bar in Berwick, which had been scheduled to hold an all-day fundraising event to benefit victims of a 5 August blaze that killed seven adults and three children in Nescopeck.
Pennsylvania state police identified the driver as 24-year-old Adrian Oswaldo Sura Reyes of Nescopeck. He was arraigned early Sunday morning on two counts of criminal homicide.
Shortly after the crash, troopers received a call about a man “physically assaulting” a woman less than a mile away in Nescopeck, authorities said.
Troopers said they arrived to find that Sura Reyes had been arrested by local police in connection with a woman who was dead at the scene.
The local coroner, Francis Hacken, confirmed Sunday that the victim – Rosa D Reyes, 56, of Nescopeck – was Sura Reyes’s mother. She died of multiple traumatic injuries after being struck by a vehicle and then beaten with a hammer, Hacken said.
Geisinger Medical Center officials said they treated 15 patients after the crash – five remained in critical condition while three were listed in fair condition.
Seven other patients had been treated and released.
Trooper Anthony Petroski III told reporters at a midnight news conference that Sura Reyes was not currently a suspect in the deadly 5 August fire, the cause of which remains under investigation. He declined comment on a possible motive for the killing of Sura Reyes’s mother.
“This is a complete tragedy in a community where there’s already been tragedy,” Petroski said. “We are going to do our job to the best of our abilities to conduct a thorough investigation not only for the families but the community members. They’re already hurting.”
Petroski said that officials have not been able to confirm yet whether the crash was intentional.
“That’s something that is currently under investigation,” he said. He added: “We have interviews to conclude. We have video surveillance to look at. More information on that will be released.”
Sura Reyes was denied bail and remained in a local county prison pending a preliminary hearing set for 29 August. Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, newspapers reported that he said only, “Sorry,” in response to reporters’ questions as he was taken from a police station. It wasn’t immediately clear whether he had a lawyer to comment on his behalf.
One of the attendees at the fundraiser, Harold Baker, told the Citizens Voice of Wilkes-Barre, “This is crazy. I didn’t even bury my kids yet.”
According to Penn Live, Baker’s son, daughter and three grandchildren were among those killed in the fire on 5 August.
The first funerals for victims of the fire were held Friday, and more were scheduled for Sunday and Monday. The fundraiser was meant to help the loved ones of those killed by the fire cover funeral expenses, among other things.
The bar called the events an “absolute tragedy” and said on its Facebook page that they will be closed until further notice and would like privacy “while we grieve and try to process the events that occurred”.
A staff member of the 98.5 KRZ radio station who was present at the scene tweeted, “Details are still sketchy but there are victims, inc children. Pray for our neighbors!”