Hutchinson firefighter Theresa L. Sager loved to help the Sewickley Township fire company, where she had spent time as a child, fellow volunteers said Tuesday as they mourned their friend who died Monday night when her truck crashed into a tree.
The 19-year-old had a “heart of gold” and “could turn a bad day into good,” others said.
“She was like my family. Everyone knew her forever,” said Frank Sever Jr., a safety officer with the fire department that serves the small community between Herminie and West Newton.
Sager, 19, of Hutchinson, was killed when her northbound 1997 Chevrolet pickup truck slammed into a large tree and overturned just off Herminie-West Newton Road about 10:15 p.m., state police at Greensburg said. The tree was in the front yard of a Nittany Lane residence, just south of the H.W. Good Elementary School in Herminie.
Sager, who was not wearing a seat belt, died of multiple blunt-force trauma and was pronounced dead at the scene at 11:40 p.m. by Deputy Coroner Joshua Zappone.
State police said speed was a factor in the crash.
The crash was so loud that it caught the attention of a neighbor about 50 yards away.
“You heard her hit the tree, and it sounded like an explosion,” said Dominick Camarote, who was on his porch at the time.
Hutchinson firefighters were the second unit to arrive at the scene and were shocked to see Sager’s Chevrolet Silverado, Sever said.
A makeshift memorial, with flowers and a plaque engraved with the saying, “In memory of a life beautifully lived … a heart so deeply loved,” lay at the foot of the tree Tuesday afternoon.
Sager had been a firefighter for three years, following in the footsteps of her father, Ralph Sager, said Hutchinson fire Chief Bill Dull Jr. The tradition of firefighting service runs in the family; her brother, Jesse Sager, is a junior fighter.
“We’re all close friends,” Dull said.
When she was a youngster, Sager would accompany her father to the fire hall, which is “the focus of town,” said Frank Sever, a longtime Hutchinson volunteer, said at the fire hall Tuesday.
Black bunting draped over the doors to the truck room and Sager’s bunker gear — helmet, coat, pants and boots — had been placed in front of the trucks.
“It’s a great loss. It will be felt in this company for a long time. She was a young person who was willing to volunteer,” Sever said, noting the difficulty of attracting new members.
“You never had to ask. She was the first one to help,” his son said.
At the AMD Fuel Co. Exxon station in Herminie, where she worked as a cashier, “she always had funny stories” to tell, said Jacob Bednar of Arona, a co-worker.
At Yough High School, where Sager graduated in 2015, she was remembered by Principal Earl Thompson as “a very, very nice girl.”
“She was a good friend to many people,” he said.
Sager’s willingness to serve as a volunteer firefighter showed “she cared about people,” Thompson said. “It’s really sad.”
The high school will have counselors available during regular school hours on Wednesday and Thursday, Thompson said.
Family and friends will be received at the J. William McCauley Jr. Funeral Home, 901 Vine St., West Newton, from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday and 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Friday. A funeral service will be conducted at 11 a.m. Saturday at the funeral home, followed by burial at the Sewickley United Presbyterian Church, Herminie-West Newton Road.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or [email protected].