HARRISBURG – A rock-throwing attack that left an Ohio woman with serious injuries is a reminder of how vulnerable motorists are when someone decides to target random victims from a highway bridge or overpass.
As 52-year-old middle school language arts teacher Sharon Budd recovers at a central Pennsylvania hospital, some may be wondering whether they face the same risk – and the answer is yes.
PennDOT spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick said such attacks are rare, but the highway agency has begun evaluating the incident with state police to see if there’s some sort of action they can take in response.
“In populated areas with sidewalks or in areas near playgrounds, interstate and expressway overpasses usually have fences,” Kirkpatrick said. “This incident happened in a rural area where there are no sidewalks, and we will have to determine the best way to deal with these senseless acts.”
Police said Budd was a passenger in a vehicle traveling on Interstate 80 near Milton, in the center of Pennsylvania, when four young men – two young boys and two brothers in their late teens – stopped on a bridge and two of them began throwing rocks at cars.
One of those rocks struck Budd and caused severe head injuries.
The Akron Beacon Journal reported Friday that she had 13 hours of facial reconstruction a day earlier and had lost the use of one eye. Her husband told the newspaper surgeons had to remove a portion of her brain.
Randy Budd said an effort has already begun to fence in that section of overpass.
Police said they noticed a vehicle driving slowly past the scene twice, traced it to a nearby home and obtained confessions from the two young boys.
Brothers Dylan Lahr, 17, and Brett Lahr, 18, of New Columbia, were charged with aggravated assault, conspiracy, throwing a missile at an occupied vehicle, reckless endangerment and possessing instruments of crime. Their lawyer, Bruce Manchester, said they deny the allegations.
“It simply becomes a question of fact, ultimately for the jury, who, if any, among the four – the Lahr brothers that have been charged and the other two young men that have not been charged – threw the boulder or boulders. Or rocks, however it’s been deemed,” Manchester said.
Rock-throwing incidents occur with some regularity across the United States.
Last month, a woman got glass in her eyes after a chunk of asphalt crashed through her windshield in Festus, Miss. About a dozen vehicles were damaged by rocks thrown onto Interstate 70 in Columbus, Ohio, in March. In October, three kids were seen running off after several vehicles were struck in Buffalo. And in August, two boys were accused of throwing rocks off an Interstate 5 overpass in Woodburn, Ore.
Pennsylvania State Police do not collect data specifically on rock-throwing incidents, but they said the number of incidents involving assault by propulsion of a missile into an occupied vehicle or onto a roadway fell from 282 in 2011 to 229 in 2012 and to 213 last year.