School district mourns accident victims
By KRIS SCHIFFBAUER
Herald-Standard Staff Writer
Carmichaels Area School District spent Monday in shock over a freak accident that injured Superintendent James Zalar and killed his wife and mother-in-law.
Zalar was hospitalized in West Virginia with his father and a woman also injured when a tree toppled from a hillside Sunday evening, crushing the car Zalar drove along a Perry Township, Greene County, road.
"Naturally, the school and community are extremely shocked and sorrowful over this tragedy. We are maintaining contact with the families of those involved to give our help and assistance as necessary," said Carmichaels Junior-Senior High School Principal Stan Ferek.
Ferek acknowledged the small school district is a tight-knit community and Zalar is well-liked by the students and employees. He said representatives of the Student Assistance Program were on hand in the schools to work with the district's psychologist with anyone who needed related counseling.
There was no heavy rainfall, strong winds or other weather condition generally thought to send trees onto the roadway Sunday, giving no apparent reason for the accident.
"This tree was approximately four-feet in circumference. It was sitting on the bank about 30 to 35 feet from the ditch line. It was just sitting against the bank. It looked like the tree or the roots had deteriorated but for some unknown reason &emdash; it had to be an act of God &emdash; it just fell over," said Mount Morris Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bob Delaney, who responded to the scene.
"There was no wind or rain or any type of storms yesterday that had anything to do with it."
Shirley Zalar, 52, of 103 N. Market St., Carmichaels, and Martina Watona, 89, of 524 Route 88, Carmichaels, were killed on impact, according to a report by state police Trooper Robert V. Caldwell.
The women were listed as the right and middle rear seat passengers.
Greene County Deputy Coroner Bill Lewis said Coroner Greg Rohanna responded to the scene of the accident and ruled the cause of death of both women as multiple blunt force trauma.
Left rear seat passenger Mary Ann Clites, 62, of Bobtown and front seat passenger Edward Martin Zalar Sr., 77, of 103 N. Market St., Carmichaels, were listed in critical condition Monday afternoon at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, W.Va.
James Zalar was listed in good condition.
Mr. Zalar was driving the 1989 Cadillac sedan DeVille east on Big Shannon Road near Mount Morris when the accident occurred around 5:50 p.m.
The 40-foot long tree fell from the north embankment to the south on top of the car and crushed the passenger area, reported Caldwell of the state police at Waynesburg.
Caldwell, quoted by the Associated Press, said the victims had been visiting friends and were returning Clites to her home.
He said he has investigated three similar fatal accidents in six years which involved falling trees.
Mount Morris firefighters extricated the car's occupants while traffic was rerouted. The road was closed about two hours.
"We had to cut the tree off the car first. That was a bit of a scary ordeal. It was lying on the bank and on the top of the car and we had to secure the tree. We removed the doors and the top of the car," said Delaney.
Delaney said the tree was located on a steep bank on the wooded side of the two-lane road.
Visitation for Mrs. Zalar and Watona will be held at the Paul Michael Lesako Funeral Home Inc, 204 Dowlin Ave., Carmichaels, today from 7 to 9 p.m. and Wednesday from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m.
Visitation continues on Thursday, in Greene Valley Presbyterian Church, Carmichaels, from 11 a.m. to noon.
Services will then be held with the Rev. Harold O. Kelley officiating. Burial will follow in Laurel Point Cemetery, Carmichaels.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Hospice Care of Greene County, 58 East Greene St., Waynesburg, PA 15370.