Settlement reached in 2008 fatal van crash

August 29, 2014
Emergency personnel tend to victims of a two-vehicle accident at Route 136 and Brownlee Road in Somerset Township April 24, 2008. Five people died in the crash. - Observer-Reporter Order a Print

One by one, family members of those killed in a truck-van crash that occurred six years ago in Somerset Township took the witness stand next to Washington County Judge Katherine Emery Friday.

Each told a heartbreaking tale of loss. John Watkins, whose wife, Mary Watkins, was killed, talked of his disbelief in losing his partner of more than 20 years.

“My whole world as I knew it was taken away from me,” he said. “I lost my companion. I lost my future, and I guess I lost my past.”

Watkins and others gathered for a hearing before Emery to determine the allocation of a settlement reached in cases brought by those injured in the crash and families of those who died. On April 24, 2008, a van carrying group home residents collided with a tractor-trailer at the intersection of Route 136 and Brownlee Road. Five people died, and seven others were injured.

Those who died were in a large transport van, which was occupied by nine residents and two workers from the Mental Health Association of Washington County group home at Bentlyville. Dead at the scene were staff members Sherly Maiolini, 53, of Charleroi, who was driving the van, Watkins, 43, of Ellsworth, and residents John Maise, 61, Richard Paquet, 43, and Julia Hugus, 41.

The injured were either flown by medical helicopter to Pittsburgh area hospitals or taken to local hospitals, where their injuries ranged from minor to severe. Dana Guiley, Duane Bell, Norma Tellman, Lawrence Corey, Kim Sickels and Sandra Mrock all recovered. The group was on its way to the Pittsburgh Zoo for a day trip.

The driver of the tractor-trailer, Stephen Rouse of Uhrichsville, Ohio, was injured but recovered.

The crash was the deadliest automobile crash in Washington County since five people died in a two-vehicle crash on Interstate 79 in 1981.

Investigators determined Maiolini crossed through the intersection and into the path of the tractor-trailer, crashing into the driver’s side of the rig. The van then flipped onto its side and careened into a garage at the corner of the intersection.

Attorney Noah Geary, who represents Bell, Guiley and Mrock, who has since died from an unrelated cause, and the estate of Paquet, alleged Maiolini was under the influence of methamphetamine at the time of the crash. A toxicology report completed by the Washington County coroner’s office indicated the drug was in her system.

Geary filed four lawsuits in April 2010. A week later, a second round of lawsuits were filed by attorney Matthew Loughren on behalf of John Watkins, the Tellman family and Rose Marie Villella, the executrix of the Maise estate. Attorney Michael Balzarini brought a lawsuit on behalf of Jean and Daniel Hugus, parents of Julia Hugus.

A lawsuit also was filed on behalf of Betty J. Nash, who is Maiolini’s mother and executrix of her estate. However, that suit was not addressed in court Friday.

Named as defendants in the lawsuits that were dealt with Friday were the Mental Health Association of Washington County, Stocker Trucking Inc., Stocker Leasing Inc. of Gnadenhutten, Ohio, Rouse, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Somerset Township and Nash.

The state Department of Transportation spent more than $557,000 to realign Route 136 and Brownlee Road after the crash.

Geary said the settlement and the allocation of the money were confidential and that he could not comment further. Balzarini and Loughren also declined to comment.

Emery said she will submit her memorandum concerning the allocation of the settlement within 30 days.

Francesca Sacco joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in November 2013, and covers the Washington County Courthouse and education. Prior to working with the Observer-Reporter, Francesca was a staff writer with a Gannett paper in Ohio. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor’s degree in print and broadcast journalism.

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