Crash kills motorist, sparks house fire

A city man was killed in a fiery crash Sunday night when his car and a city police cruiser collided and then crashed into a utility pole and a building at East Third and Railway streets, knocking out electrical service for much of the East End of the city, officials confirmed.

The car, believed to be a Chevy Impala, burst into flames, which quickly spread to the vacant apartment building at the northeast corner about 6:50 p.m.

The police officer, who reportedly was en route in a marked cruiser to assist other officers involved in vehicle pursuit several blocks north, was shaken up in the crash and was being treated at the Williamsport Regional Medical Center for minor injuries.

Killed in the crash was James David Robinson, 42, state police said in a news release.

Emergency responders said the officer, whose identity was not released, tried to reach the victim, but was driven back by the blaze.

State police are the lead investigators of the crash.

Both the officer and Robinson were traveling east on East Third Street when the vehicles collided, Trooper Brian M. Evarts said.

The utility pole was severed by the impact, leaving a street light dangling in the middle of the road.

Firefighters, who were met with heavy black smoke and a ball of flames when they arrived on the scene, had to use extreme caution because of live power lines that fell in the street.

Sparks flew in several directions when the live wires on the damaged pole started arcing.

With the building already on fire, a second alarm was ordered, bringing additional manpower and equipment from Loyalsock Township, Montoursville, South Williamsport and Old Lycoming Township.

Assistant Fire Chief Todd Heckman, in charge of the fire scene, said the live wires did not prevent firefighters from attacking the apartment house fire as crews were able to stretch hoses through the back of the structure, which officials said was owned by Barry Eck.

Heckman declared the fire under control at 7:45 p.m. Lycoming County Coroner Charles E. Kiessling Jr., along with one of his deputies, arrived on the scene at about that time.

PPL crews also arrived and started making repairs and re-routing power through other lines.

An estimated 500 customers lost power, but service was restored to all but a handful of customers by 10 p.m., Teri MacBride, a PPL spokeswoman.

A trained state police accident reconstructionist was expected to assist city police with the investigation of the deadly crash.

Volunteer fire police from several fire companies assisted with traffic control at intersections where traffic lights were out.

City police Capts. Michael Orwig and Tim Miller held a brief press conference at City Hall hours after the crash.

Calling the crash “serious and tragic,” Orwig said the investigation was ongoing and that many questions remained unanswered as of Sunday night.

Miller said it was unknown if the officer had his cruiser’s emergency lights and siren on when the crash occurred.

The officer was expected to be taken off-duty and undergo “debriefing” as a result of the very traumatic event, Miller said.

The cruiser he was driving sustained heavy front-end damage and likely was totaled, city Police Chief Gregory Foresman, who also attended the press conference, said.

Few details of the pursuit were available, but the driver was in custody and was expected to be arraigned on numerous charges early this morning.

“The pursuit started in the center of the city and ended in the East End,” Orwig said.

“The vehicle being pursued crashed into a tree and the lone occupant was arrested,” Orwig said, adding that the crash occurred at Harding Avenue and Grove streets.

The driver’s identity was not released Sunday night.