Drug investigation spurs police chase, fatal crash on Toll Route 66
Greensburg police were investigating suspected drug activity early Tuesday when a car took off, leading four officers on a chase that turned deadly in a vwrong-way crash that shut down Toll Route 66 for six hours.
The man who police were pursuing died after the Ford Focus he was driving crashed head-on into another vehicle in Salem at 3:19 a.m. at milemarker 11.4 southbound on Amos K. Hutchinson Bypass, police said.
The Westmoreland County Coroner’s office identified the deceased driver as Jack T. Bierer Jr., 37, of Greensburg.
The driver of the other vehicle, a Subaru Crosstrek, was injured and taken to a Pittsburgh hospital for treatment of non-life threatening injuries, state police said. Investigators identified her as Rebecca Brubaker, 22, of Irwin. State Trooper Steve Limani said she was driving home from work.
Greensburg officers noticed the Ford Focus sitting empty in an alley at 3:14 a.m. in the area of Ohara Street and Concord Avenue where drug arrests and overdoses have occurred recently.
“They’re up in the area because we’ve been getting tons of complaints about drug activity,” said Police Chief Chad Zucco. “There’s been a lot of stuff going on up there.”
By the time the officers circled around the block, the Ford Focus took off, nearly hitting another motorist, Zucco said. The officers activated their lights and sirens and the pursuit began.
“They tried catching up to the car,” he said. “It turns on College Avenue, it won’t stop.”
After about 4 miles, the Ford Focus got onto Toll Route 66 heading northbound in the southbound lanes. Officers followed.
“Their thinking is: They can’t stop this guy from going the wrong way now, but they want to be behind him with lights and sirens on” with the hopes of alerting other drivers on the highway, Zucco said.
“They were far back enough during the pursuit … they had plenty of time to stop,” he said. “There’s nothing in the (department’s) policy they violated.”
The crash occurred at a bend in the road and Bierer became trapped inside. He was eventually freed and flown to Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital where he was pronounced dead from internal bleeding at 4:30 a.m., according to the coroner.
Bierer was driving “extremely fast” and “his vehicle was vaulted in the air after the crash,” Limani said. Troopers will do an accident reconstruction to determine his speed.
“Very violent impact, very fortunate only one person died in this crash,” he said.
There were no passengers in either vehicle. No officers were injured.
“These decisions are made in seconds and … the incident keeps changing while you’re evaluating it,” Limani said.
There is dash cam video of the pursuit. A city officer searched the mangled Ford Focus on Tuesday. Zucco said investigators recovered drugs from Bierer, who police have encountered in the past. Bierer did not own the Ford Focus and police will interview the car’s owner. Zucco said the officers didn’t know Bierer was driving the car until after the crash.
“Always when you’re traveling, try and be careful, be diligent even when you’re on a divided highway,” Limani warned motorists.
Bierer has a history of fleeing from police.
He had an Aug. 23 preliminary hearing scheduled on state police accusations that he fled a three-vehicle crash in Hempfield on June 16. Drivers of the other two vehicles told investigators that a Chevrolet Malibu Bierer had borrowed to drive to Walmart drifted into their lane on Mt. Thor Road and hit them. The witnesses reported that Bierer ran into the woods after the crash and police said he called the car’s owner.
He was free on $5,000 unsecured bond on charges including flight to avoid apprehension and driving on a suspended license
Bierer pleaded guilty to his third drunken-driving charge in October 2016 and was paroled from the Westmoreland County Prison last year, according to online court records. Those charges stemmed from a traffic stop by Greensburg police in August of that year when he also fled the scene and was driving on a suspended license.
City officers were involved in a couple pursuits earlier this year and a third in 2017.
•On Jan. 25, 2017, city police chased a car that was seen driving the wrong way on South Washington Street. The suspect fled into Southwest Greensburg and Hempfield, driving on three wheels after crashing into a patrol car.
•On March 21, 2018, city police chased a man for 20 miles on snowy roads after he allegedly fled a traffic stop on West Pittsburgh Street. The chase ended in Loyalhanna Township when the suspect rammed a police cruiser.
•Ten days later, city officers twice called off a pursuit because the suspect was traveling at a high rate of speed — more than 100 mph. A chase was initiated when the suspect was seen traveling on a motorcycle at about 80 mph in a 45 mph zone on College Avenue.
Staff writers Madasyn Czebiniak and Paul Peirce contributed. Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, [email protected] or via Twitter @byrenatta.