Retired Pa. Priest Hits Churchgoers, 1 Dies

FOREST HILLS, Pa. (AP) - The pastor of a western Pennsylvania church says a retired priest is in a state of shock and in need of prayers after police and witnesses said he drove into a group of
churchgoers following a Good Friday service, killing an elderly
woman and injuring four other people.

Police and witnesses said the priest had just finished assisting with an afternoon service and was driving around to the church entrance when his car sped into a small group standing under a shelter.

The Rev. John W. Skirtich, pastor of St. Maurice Church in Forest Hills near Pittsburgh, said during services Friday night that 89-year-old Madeline Romell had died of her injuries five hours after the crash. Skirtich called it "a traumatic and frightening scene" and asked for prayers for all involved.

"Sometimes when you watch tragic things on TV, the mind intellectually understands that they've happened, and even on an emotional level," Skirtich said. "But when you see it personally right in front of you and you hear the screams and see the people suffering, it's a whole 'nother level of understanding."

Four others were hurt, but Forest Hills Mayor Ray Heller Jr. said their injuries weren't life-threatening.

Allegheny County police are investigating the accident and did not answer a call seeking comment Saturday.

Parishioner Angela Thomas, who helped tend to the injured, said the priest told her the car accelerated by itself.

"He told me the accelerator of his car went on its own and he could not stop the car," she said. "He's just the sweetest priest and a wonderful man. He's in shock. He's just devastated."

Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik said his heart goes out to the injured and the priest.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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