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Runaway SUV Leaves Trail of Damage in Birdland

Driver suffered a seizure and lost control, speeding through several yards in Scott.

George Ponchione stepped onto his front porch at 12:45 p.m. Friday and headed for his car, intending to drive from his home in Scott Township’s Birdland neighborhood to Our Lady of Grace Church on Bower Hill Road.

Instead, he spent the afternoon with his neighbors on Raven Drive, taking photographs and marveling at the block-long swath of damage left by a sport utility vehicle that went out of control on his street.

As Ponchione stared from his porch, an SUV driven by a 32-year-old Ohio woman who suffered a seizure slammed into his parked car, then tore through his and several other yards before veering across the street. On the other side of Raven, he and other witnesses said, it crashed through shrubbery and another yard before hitting a house.

The impact was so loud, neighbors said, that several of them ran outside, thinking they’d heard a natural gas explosion.

The woman and a young child in the SUV were not injured in the Friday afternoon crash. The woman at the wheel, whom Scott Township police did not identify, was taken to nearby St. Clair Hospital because of the seizure.

Scott police Sgt. Jeff Skees said the SUV drove through several yards, across a street, before striking the side of 1228 Raven Drive. There was some foundation damage to the two-bedroom Cape Cod-style home, Skees said.

“Yeah, they were lucky,” Skees said. “Everyone was fine.”

Gloria Leston, a neighbor across the street, said it appeared as though the car struck the side of the house, possibly the garage. Smoke that neighbors saw likely was coming from the car, not the house.

"My (niece) called and said she heard a bang,” Leston said. “Not long after I saw fire engines and an ambulance. The firemen never used their hoses. It just looked like they were cleaning up a mess."

She said a car hit into her house about 30 years ago, but she said she wouldn't characterize the street as dangerous or difficult to drive on.

No one appeared to be seriously hurt in the crash, witnesses said. But the occupants of the home said there was damage to their foundation and utility lines.

“I was going up to the church to help with the fish fry,” said Ponchione, 71, of 1247 Raven Drive. “My car is in my driveway, and here she comes. She hits my car and spins it around, she hit my hedges and she keeps going.”

Ponchione said he hurried to record the car’s license number, fearing the driver was trying to get away. While he ran after the car to look at the license plate, he said it slammed into the concrete-block retaining wall next door at 1243 Raven.

 The car still did not stop there, he said, but kept going up the sloping front yard and then down the other side on two wheels.

“It’s tilted at a 45-degree angle, but it kept right on going right through the yard,” Ponchione said, pointing out the SUV’s path through the yard and across the street. “Right up the hill and back down.”

The SUV righted itself as it came back onto the street and sped across it diagonally, Ponchione said. Three doors up at 1232 Raven, it struck a cluster of shrubs in the sloping front yard, causing it to go airborne before slamming into the side of the house next door at 1228 Raven.

“I was getting something out of my frig when I heard the explosion and the lights went out, “ said Tobi Mousessian, 34, who lives in that rented house with her 2-year-old son, 7-year-old daughter and husband. 

She was getting lunch for her son, A.J., she said, and her first instinct was to get them both out of the house.

“I called 911 on my cell phone because the power had gone out.  Then I ran out and saw the car,” she said.

“Yeah, I was pretty shook up, but I felt bad for the people in that car.”

The woman who was driving the car “seemed kind of out of it,” Mousessian said, and a toddler in a car seat was crying.  Emergency crews arrived quickly to tend to the woman and child, she said, “and the woman seemed OK later.”

The foundation of the house “is a mess inside,” she said, and the power lines were cut.

“I’m just glad it wasn’t worse,” she said as neighbors comforted her in the street. “It could’ve been a lot worse.”

(Patch staffers Cindi Lash, Mike Jones, Candy Woodall and Zandy Dudiak contributed to this story)

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