When the driver of a westbound car missed the turn onto Acorn Street from Philadelphia Street in White Township and crashed early Sunday morning, the impact sheared off a gas meter at the Indiana PA Efficiency Apartments, sending it “like a football” high into the air, according to the manager of the apartment complex.
“I was woken up by a hissing sound. It sounded like a jet plane,” said Steve Hilinski, who also lives in the front of the complex.
The crash took down a utility pole and the complex’s large sign along Philadelphia Street, and vibrated the windows of the apartments.
Hilinski said responding firefighters evacuated all 23 residents from the complex for fear the building could ignite, he said.
There was a heavy odor of gas, he said: “You could taste it.”
“They saved our lives. We could have had 23 dead people,” he said.
The incident occurred at 2:54 a.m., state police said, when a 2018 Nissan Sentra driven by an unidentified 22-year-old man from Pittsburgh crashed, triggering “a substantial gas leak.” He was arrested at the scene on suspicion of driving under the influence. Charges are pending laboratory test results.
The sound of the crash also woke White Township Supervisor Eugene Gemmell, who lives “a couple hundred yards” down the road at Water Street and College Lodge Road.
Gemmell said the roar of the escaping gas was like a gas well blowing off.
“You can see the potential for disaster with that much gas escaping,” he said. “It went on for an hour.”
The wreck early Sunday was the most recent of four or five accidents on the property in the last four years, Hilinski said.
Both he and Gemmell have been trying to persuade the state Department of Transportation to install a traffic light at the intersection of Philadelphia Street, Acorn Street and College Lodge Road.
That is something Gemmell said was promised by PennDOT when Acorn Street was realigned in a project a number of years ago in anticipation of the construction of the large apartment complexes behind the property that Hilinski manages.
A PennDOT spokesman in 2009, before the realignment, told the Gazette that a traffic light was not required immediately at the new intersection but that officials anticipated the need of a new light once drivers’ habits adjust to using the new route.
Since then, Hilinski estimates that traffic on Acorn Street has increased from about 15 vehicles a day to between 200 and 300.
“Enough is enough,” he said. “Someone needs to open their eyes to what’s going on. We need help now.”
Gemmell said he would like the board of supervisors to again approach PennDOT about installing a traffic light, which would alleviate a second problem further down the road where Heritage Run Road comes out onto Philadelphia Street, where turning left can be difficult.
Gemmell said on Monday that PennDOT has told the township supervisors a light could be installed when and if it is deemed necessary.
“Some of us think it’s needed now,” he said.