29 years old
Sisters Taking Their Search To Festival
Somewhere between the funnel-cake stand and the kettle-corn vendor at the Blairsville Diamond Days, festival-goers will find a serious tone to the gala weekend.
By Chauncey Ross, Gazette Staff Writer
BLAIRSVILLE - Somewhere between the funnel-cake stand and the kettle-corn vendor at the Blairsville Diamond Days, festival-goers will find a serious tone to the gala weekend.
Among the displays for the Red Cross, Canine Assistants and area churches will be an unusual appeal for civic responsibility.
Relatives and friends of Sean Pearce will man a booth and hand out fliers advertising a reward for the solution to his death one month ago in a hit-and-run accident near Blairs-ville.
"The more we keep it in the news, the closer we'll get to finding who killed him," said Heather Pearce, whose younger brother died at about 2:15 a.m. June 15 when a vehicle hit his bicycle on Route 119 near Black Lick.
"We'll pass out papers about my brother, and the vehicle," Pearce said. "And we'll do a candlelight vigil at 9 p.m. Saturday."
Pearce said that her booth, generally, will promote hit-and-run awareness. She said Dia-mond Days organizers consider the booth a community service and waived the fee for the space.
Sean Pearce, 29, was killed near the intersection of Route 119 and Snyder Lane in Burrell Township, at the bottom of a stretch of highway some call Mile Hill.
The point is near the south end of the construction zone, where Route 119 has been widened from two to four lanes between Homer City and the Black Lick area.
State police initially said a small white car hit Pearce and fled the area. Investigators later reported the hit-run vehicle was a white or cream-colored truck or sport-utility vehicle.
Then troopers decided that a light truck or SUV of undetermined color was responsible for Pearce's death.
The discrepancy is a matter that Heather Pearce said she and her sister Shannon Anderson want to clarify for the Blairsville-area residents attending Diamond Days.
Investigators this week did not return calls requesting an update on the search for the hit-run driver.
Donors so far have contributed more than $1,000 to a reward fund established at the S&T Bank branch office in Blairsville. Pearce's relatives said the account was set up by a Blairsville resident they declined to identify.
Anyone with information about the accident may contact state police at Indiana at (724) 357-1960.
©Indiana Printing & Publishing Co. 2005
Family Searching For Identity Of Driver Who Killed 29-Year-Old
Heather Pearce and Shannon Anderson grieved the loss of their brother, Sean Pearce - suddenly dead last Friday at age 29.
By Chauncey Ross
BURRELL TOWNSHIP - Decades from now, they might have expected to do this.
Heather Pearce and Shannon Anderson grieved the loss of their brother, Sean Pearce - suddenly dead last Friday at age 29.
Along with their parents, they greeted visitors at the funeral home, tried to manage some of their brother's personal affairs and saw to his entombment with their grandfather in a mausoleum at Oakland Cemetery in Indiana.
But never did the sisters expect one additional, anguishing burden.
They're out to get the identity of a hit-and-run driver who fled into the night after hitting their brother on a highway near Black Lick.
State police believe a white or cream-colored light truck or sport-utility vehicle hit Sean Pearce at about 2 a.m. July 15 on Route 119 near Snyder Road. Pearce was riding a bicycle when the accident occurred, heading home to his parents' residence along Belvedere Drive near the former Burrell Township Elementary School.
Family members told investigators they believed Pearce had visited the Eagles Rest tavern in Blairsville earlier in the evening. The tavern owner, Charles Fouse, disputed that report.
Investigators have not suggested that Pearce did anything to cause the accident.
According to the Indiana County Coroner's office, Pearce immediately died of multiple, severe injuries when a vehicle hit his bicycle.
One or more other vehicles are thought to have hit Pearce. And none of those drivers stopped.
"I slept with his jacket last night," Anderson, 33, said Friday. Nestling with her brother's 1990 vintage Bentley Giants junior-legion baseball team jacket kept memories alive.
"My dad just ran into someone Sean played with. The guy said Sean used to have them all cracking up in the dugout with jokes. He liked to keep people happy."
Anderson said her brother "had a big heart and loved everyone." The youngest of three children, Sean exulted in having a brother-in-law when Shannon was the first to marry.
"He called my husband 'bro!'" Anderson said. "When he got married, he said to my mother it's nice to have our family grow."
And at her wedding reception six weeks ago, Anderson said, Sean kept the youngest children entertained.
"He was 6-feet-4, but kids were never scared of him," Anderson said. "They warmed up to him."
She said they'd get into some horseplay - her husband's nephews pretended to run and hide from Sean, and he threatened to toss them in the swimming pool.
"Kids just loved him," Anderson said. "He liked to pick on them and goof around.
"He would have been the best kindergarten teacher ever!"
AT 29, though, Pearce still hadn't found his life's work.
He studied exercise science at Indiana University of Pennsylvania but didn't get a degree. And this summer, as Anderson put it, Sean was between jobs.
The day he died, his paycheck for $157 for a temporary construction job came in the mail. After some discussion, Pearce's family decided to donate it to Homer City United Methodist Church to pay a youngster's way to a church-sponsored camp in Canada.
Anderson, who now lives in San Diego, said family friends from Colorado and Florida flew in to pay their respects.
And when she got off her flight from California last Saturday, Anderson said she and Heather, 31, put up a wooden cross with flowers and greens near the spot where their brother died. They put a ribbon reading, "Our Baby Brother," on the memorial and tied it to the guardrail with yellow crime-scene tape that investigators left behind.
And the sisters were left to wait for answers.
"We're just completely destroyed over this situation," Heather Pearce said. "They left him lay there like a dog."
Anderson takes issue with her brother's death being labeled an accident. Hitting someone with a vehicle is one thing, but not stopping is another. "This is vehicular homicide," she said.
Anderson also said a Blairsville resident, whom she would not identify, is arranging to establish a reward fund for information that leads to a conviction in the case.
"We're trying to get the person who killed my brother to come forward or for someone to turn the driver in," Heather Pearce said. "We need help to find this person."
©Indiana Printing & Publishing Co. 2005
Cyclist's sister seeks information about hit and run
By Jeff Himler
BURRELL TOWNSHIP--Two weeks after a Burrell Township bicyclist was struck and fatally injured in an early morning hit-and-run crash, state police are no closer to identifying the involved driver.
Meanwhile, the sisters of the slain man, 29-year-old Sean Pearce, have issued a plea, urging the driver or anyone who may have information about the July 15 incident to come forward and help their grieving family find closure.
While acknowledging that the collision was an accident, Heather Pearce, 31, of Blairsville, and Shannon Anderson, 33, of San Diego, they are upset by the fact that whoever struck their brother failed to stop.
"It was an accident when they first hit him, but it wasn't an accident when they left him lying there," Heather Pearce noted.
"I was worried that someone was going to go to jail for accidentally killing my brother," she said. "But this person showed no concern for our feelings; they kept going.
"My brother was a good person. He cared about people. If he would have hit someone, he would have stopped."
According to state police, the accident happened at about 2:15 a.m. as Sean Pearce was traveling north along Rt. 119, less than a mile from his home. He was pronounced dead at 2:52 a.m. at the scene: near the intersection of Snyder Lane, at the base of Mile Hill.
A construction zone for widening of Rt. 119 to four lanes begins in that vicinity.
An autopsy performed by Cyril Wecht and Associates of Pittsburgh determined that the victim suffered severe injuries to his head and pelvis and multiple extremity fractures.
"Regardless of how we determine who it is, they're probably going to face a hit and run charge," Cpl. Michael Schmidt, a state police collision analysis and reconstruction specialist, said of the involved driver.
While the investigation remains open, he added, "They would probably not be facing a homicide charge at this point."
The victim's sisters indicated it would mean a great deal to them and their family if the hit-and-run driver were to admit involvement in the incident and would cooperate in the police investigation.
"I can't imagine living my whole life and not knowing who killed my brother," Heather Pearce said.
"We're just asking this person to be a human being and come forward and admit to what they did," she said. "We don't want revenge; we want closure."
"When they come forward, I won't consider them a murderer anymore," she added.
Anderson agreed, noting cooperation from the driver would soften her attitude if, as a family member of the victim, she would offer testimony in a sentencing procedure: "I won't be as harsh if (the driver) comes forward.
"They're destroying our whole family by not coming forward."
The victim's sisters believe he was struck more than once by separate vehicles and they're hoping someone who drove through the area after the initial impact will provide valuable clues to investigators.
Schmidt, who is based at the Indiana barracks, said Wednesday state police have not been able to confirm that multiple vehicles were involved.
"We don't know that," he said. But, he added, "It's not that it's out of the realm of possibility."
According to Schmidt, authorities have altered some of their theories concerning the collision, based on the ongoing investigation.
A week ago, he noted, police were describing the suspect vehicle as a white or cream-colored SUV or light truck.
As of Wednesday, investigators had revised that description, indicating that the vehicle could have been any color.
Schmidt explained auto parts left behind at the scene as a result of the impact helped establish the types of vehicles which might have been involved.
"We were able to trace the parts back through the manufacturer," he said.
But, regarding the color of the hit-and-run unit, Schmidt said investigators were thrown off by a white mark on the victim's bike, which they initially thought was paint left behind by contact with the vehicle.
As it turns out, he said, "Based on the laboratory analysis, it wasn't paint from another vehicle."
From tips and evidence which investigators have obtained, "We had about five solid leads, but they ended up nowhere," Schmidt said.
In one such case, he said, police pursued a report about a car that had lost a side mirror in the vicinity of the fatal crash.
"We found that vehicle fairly quickly the same night," he noted.
But it turned out to be "a totally unrelated incident," Schmidt said. He explained the female driver "admitted she had hit a construction barrel several days before the (fatal) accident."
He said that driver's story was corroborated by her resulting repair bills, which were dated prior to July 15.
In another instance, Schmidt said, a license plate found at the scene the day of the fatality was traced to its owner. But police determined that "it fell off his trailer and he didn't know about it."
Schmidt encouraged citizens who think they may know information relevant to the case, no matter how seemingly trivial, to report it to police.
In such investigations, he noted, "Typically, one person doesn't have the whole picture. It's like putting together a puzzle: every little piece helps."
"Somebody somewhere knows something," Schmidt said.
But, unless some new information surfaces, he admitted, "We're starting to run out of pieces of the puzzle."
Heather Pearce urged workers at local auto body shops to keep their eyes peeled for damage to vehicles which might be consistent with the fatal crash.
Anderson speculated that the hit-and-run driver might be someone who is keeping a low profile or is suddenly concealing his or her vehicle from public view.
"It is everybody's responsibility to look out for this guy," she said.
"We just want them caught," her sister added. "I need to know what really happened to my brother."
Chief Deputy Coroner Michael Baker said Tuesday he was still awaiting results from tests of the victim's blood.
Those results should reveal whether alcohol was present in the victim's bloodstream. But his sisters pointed out they may never know if the driver who hit him was intoxicated.
Pearce was riding a bicycle since his driver's license had been suspended in 2004, after a conviction of driving under the influence.
But police have backed away from an initial report that the victim had been drinking at a Blairsville-area bar prior to the accident.
Schmidt said staff at the bar denied Pearce had imbibed there.
The victim's sisters indicated drinking alcohol was not a high priority for him.
Anderson noted, "He went out with me to my bachelorette party in Pittsburgh, and he was the most sober one of all of us."
"He would ride his bike downtown to socialize with people," Heather Pearce added. "It does not mean he was down there getting drunk. He wanted to go talk with people his own age."
The sisters weren't surprised that Sean Pearce was riding his bicycle in the early hours of the morning.
"He probably couldn't sleep," Anderson said.
"He would ride his bike regardless of the time," Heather Pearce noted. But, "He wasn't reckless riding his bike."
Police indicated the sky was clear the night of the fatal accident, but they also noted the victim's bike was not equipped with a light for riding after dark.
At 6-4, 220 pounds, the sisters described their late brother as "a gentle giant."
Having studied exercise science at IUP, he had earned certification as a personal trainer.
He also enjoyed working out either at a local gym in Blairsville or at IUP's Field House.
"He was very physically fit," Heather Pearce noted.
At the same time, "He loved animals and children," Anderson said. "When anyone else had a problem, he was the one to talk you through it."
Adding to Anderson's loss is the knowledge that her brother is "never going to know his nephews and nieces."
For her family, the tragedy followed hard on the heels of a joyful celebration: her May 28 marriage to Scott Anderson.
"He was so excited to have a big brother," Shannon Anderson said of the relationship between her late brother and her husband.
She noted the two men shared a common love of baseball. She explained her husband is a pitcher for a AAA ball team in San Diego, while her brother had played local sandlot baseball with the Bentley Giants.
Now, she said of her younger sibling, "I'm sleeping with his jacket and his t-shirts. That's all I have left of my brother."
Heather Pearce said the one thing that has sustained the family is support from the community.
She said, "There's been a massive outpouring from friends and family. People we don't even know are sending cards."
A cross and flowers appeared as an impromptu memorial near the Rt. 119 crash site.
In addition to his sisters, Sean Pearce is survived by his parents, Darla Hilliard and William Pearce, and by three grandparents, Dorothy Hilliard and George and Viola Pearce.
Anyone who may have witnessed the fatal July 15 collision or may have other pertinent information is asked to contact state police at the Indiana barracks at 724-357-1960.
Jeff Himler can be reached at email@example.com or (724) 459-6100, ext. 13.
Images and text copyright © 2004 by The Tribune-Review Publishing Co.
Deadly Roads - Hit and Run Accidents