Fatal crash shows perils of Amish buggies on roads

Posted: December 9, 2013 - 4:03am


PITTSBURGH (AP) — The fatal crash of a truck tractor into a horse-drawn Amish buggy over the weekend underscored the continuing danger faced by those who travel the state's rural roads in animal-driven vehicles.

Since Oct. 1 there have been at least five serious crashes involving buggies in Pennsylvania, killing three passengers, according to news reports.

The most recent, in Mercer County on Saturday (Nov. 30), killed two passengers, including an 11-year-old girl, and injured the driver.

Mary Byler, 34, of New Wilmington, and her 11-year-old daughter, Anna, were pronounced dead at the scene by Mercer County Coroner J. Bradley McGonigle III, who said they died of blunt force trauma.

Byler's husband, William Byler, 35, who was driving the buggy, was flown to St. Elizabeth Health Center in Youngstown, Ohio, where he was in critical condition.

State police said the truck tractor, operated by Matthew Coulter, 36, of Pulaski, Lawrence County, struck the rear of the buggy at 4:23 p.m. on Pulaski-Mercer Road in New Wilmington Township. The police report stated that the truck trailer was headed west about 30 minutes before sunset. There was no information on Mr. Coulter's condition.

The hazards faced by operators of animal-driven vehicles inspired the creation of a Horse and Buggy Driver's Manual five years ago, a collaborative effort that included members of the plain community, Pennsylvania State Police and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

"Now more than ever, we, as horse and buggy drivers, need to be careful and observe the basic rules of safety when traveling on today's busy roads," the manual begins. In addition to reporting on state laws and regulations, it offers tips and advice.

"Being respectful and courteous on the road is an excellent opportunity for us, in our small way, to be a light to the world. Let us not darken it by being inconsiderate to our fellow travelers and by demanding our rights," it says.

Among the areas of focus are buggy lighting and markings, including the orange triangle that identifies slow-moving vehicles.

"There is probably nothing you can do that will better warn the driver of a fast approaching car than to have a slow moving vehicle (SMV) emblem ... on the back of your buggy," the manual states.

The emblems are required under state law, even though a 2003 Superior Court ruling, in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, held that Schwartzentruber Amish who objected to the triangle on religious grounds and sought to use alternate gray reflective markings could not be prosecuted.

It was not immediately known whether the Bylers' buggy had the triangular marker.

Chad R. Taylor, chairman of the New Wilmington Township board of supervisors, said local Amish typically use blinkers and triangles, but did not know if the Bylers' buggy had those features. State police at Mercer said they had no additional information about the crash on Monday.

State law also requires that buggies that are to be driven at night have headlights, blinkers and reflectors.

The number of buggy crashes in Pennsylvania has fluctuated over the past decade, from a low of 56 in 2003 to a high of 78 in 2006. There were 64 such crashes last year, PennDOT said.

Lancaster County, in the heart of Amish country, had the most crashes by far over the past 10 years, with 291. Mifflin was second with 35, and Mercer and Crawford each had 31.

One other fatal crash involving buggies has occurred in Pennsylvania since Oct. 1.

On Nov. 3, a 21-year-old Lancaster County woman died after a tractor-trailer slammed into the back of a horse and buggy on Route 30 in Salisbury Township.

Eight people were injured in two other crashes during that period -- on Nov. 3 in Franklin County and Oct. 13 in Lancaster County. In both incidents, SUVs struck the rear end of buggies.

No one was hurt in a Nov. 19 crash of a car into the back of a horse-drawn buggy in Lebanon County, caused by a driver who was checking email on his phone at the time. The buggy was destroyed.