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Roxborough 10 Recall 1992 Northwestern Ave. Accident (Part 2)

Keith House, Brian Costa, Maureen Kenney and Adrienne Kenney discuss the deadly car crash.

On Dec. 7, 1992, Michael Luce and Michael Petrucci Jr. died in a car crash on Northwestern Avenue. 

The pair died when a car with eight other friends ran into a tree at the Philadelphia-Montgomery County border. Petrucci was 16, and Luce was 20.

Click here to read part one of the 20-year anniversary of their death.

Below, four of the survivors recount the aftermath.

After the Fall

Although fine himself, Keith House immediately knew his friends were in trouble. 

"I had scratches on my hand, nothing else. I don't know how I lucked out like that. No one in the front seat really had any damage at all," House said, referring to driver, William Kerper, and passenger Joseph Briston.

After the initial collision, Northwestern Avenue quieted. Being in such an isolated part of the city left the 10 children to grapple with the real-life problem all alone. No one had a cell phone, and unlike Roxborough where they knew everyone, the kids struggled to get anyone's attention.

Adrienne Kenney, who only had a black eye, can recall the scene very clearly.

She pulled Brian Costa out of the car, found House in the leaves. Her sister, Maureen, kept saying her head felt like it wasn't attached to her body. 

And then there was Petrucci.

"Mike Petrucci was face down (away) from the car. And, he had a big dent in his head. I didn't move it, thank God, because I don't know what could have been on the other side," she said. "He was not conscious or moving... I knew something was wrong with Mike. His whole entire head was crushed in. I got down in the dirt and started praying."

House bounded away from the scene, desperate to find anyone.

Eventually, he found the Black house, where he pounded and pounded on the door—but no one answered. Maybe they thought he was robbing them. Either way, nothing was stopping him. So, he punched through a window and explained the situation.

Jayne Black, the homeowner, called 911 and waited.

Northwestern Avenue is situated at the Springfield Township and Philadelphia border. Jurisdictions are blurred. Black told The Philadelphia Inquirer her call to the dispatcher was disconnected. Records later showed a seven-minute gap between the call and first responders' arrival.

But Black, and the folks at the scene, disputed that timeline. House and Adrienne said it felt like at least 15, maybe 20 minutes. No one attributed the initial confusion to anyone's death, but the miscue rubs the accident victims wrong today.

The madness of the massive car crash descended on the scene. Montgomery County and Philadelphia EMTs trucked their heavy vehicles down Northwestern Avenue. For the last time, the 10 Roxborough teens were together before being ripped apart by doctors, funerals and hard feelings.

Hospital Beds

Helicopters are an unwelcome sight in the city. Police choppers usually mean some criminal or thief is running around Roxborough. Traffic helicopters cause a ruckus around I-76, reporting the daily deluge of dismay the highway causes. On Dec. 7, 1992, two helicopters landed in Northwest Philadelphia. One passenger survived, the other did not.

Crews airlifted Mauren Kenney to Hahnemann University Hospital where she was rushed into surgery. She said they feared paralysis. It was a long night that left her with a scar where her clavicle protruded, but she made it out alive. Her one eye remained closed for a long time after. She didn't return to school until 1993.

Luce, trapped in the car's cargo hold, didn't get so lucky. EMTs extricated him using the Jaws of Life, and strapped him into a helicopter destined for the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. He died the next morning at Penn, finally joining his mother.

Petrucci, the popular rising star, failed to make it far from the accident scene. His injuries were too severe for a helicopter ride. An ambulance transported him to Chestnut Hill Hospital, where he was shortly pronounced dead. Adrienne clearly remembers his mother finding out at the hospital.

The range of injuries from the incident spanned widely. 

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As doctors tended to Petrucci, Briston, Adrienne and House were treated for minor nicks and bruises at Chestnut Hill and were released. House even went to school the next day.

Similarly, Nicole McHugh and Kevin Leahy sustained minor injuries and were released that night from the former Medical College Hospital on Henry Avenue in East Falls.

Costa, however, remained injured much longer. The 15-year-old lingered in a coma for six days, before waking up. 

"My dad was reading Sports Illustrated, and he says, out of nowhere, I just started asking him things about the paragraph he was reading," he said.

He had a seizure, experienced head trauma and bleeding on the brain. Although he returned home two days later and even visited Maureen in the hospital, his mind erased that entire month from his life—Christmas 1992 is a blank. High school, overall, is a blur to him. 

The first thing Costa remembered was waking up and wanting pepperoni bread from Marchiano's in Manayunk. He blocked out the accident, hospitalization and funerals for his friends.

Moving On

The next few weeks—and high school really—whizzed as a blur. Everyone did a whole lot of growing up very quickly. Adrienne was barely a teenager and McHugh was 12.

Funerals for Luce and Petrucci, rehabilitation for Costa and Maureen and court for Kerper. The minor was charged in Montgomery County Juvenile Court with vehicular homicide and involuntary manslaughter, in addition to recklessly endangering other people, reckless driving, and driving without headlights turned on at night, the Inquirer reported. The others testified in the trial but nothing much came from the incident, and everyone moved on their with lives.

Pretty quickly after the accident, the group—which was mostly linked only by the incident only—severed. 

Kerper hosted a party one day at his house, and the eight survivors gathered. However, the group split thereafter.

Briston and Kerper were one side; Costa, Leahy, House and the Kenneys on the other. McHugh faded from their contact.

"As time wore on... we started to blame (Kerper) and had anger toward him," Maureen said. 

The Kenneys entered into therapy shortly after the accident. The two feel this greatly helped them cope with the sever incident's trauma. 

Costa, Leahy and House felt a close bond with Petrucci's mother and brother, who was barely 2-years-old when his brother died. 

What was important to the five was remembering their friend. Hillside Recreation Center hung Petrucci's #4 jersey from the rafters. Students also made rhinestone-laced "ML" and "MP" hats with Petrucci's #4 again on the back.

"In high school, I remember a bunch of us walking to the grave in Manayunk. Like 12 of us, holding hands and singing 'Happy Birthday,'" Maureen said.

Every year, they gathered at Northwestern Avenue to honor the Mikes.

Maureen and Costa continued dating. Although he can't recall it, they spent hours talking on the phone, from one hospital bed to the other. Slowly, their lives returned to normal, and throughout it all, they remained together. 

Today, they are married with two daughters and a son. 

"We always wondered if we would have gotten married without the accident. There's just some bond we have, all of us have, that kept us together," Maureen said.

Their oldest is now 14—the same age now as when they got into the accident.

"Being a parent, I so don't want that for my kids... I want the opposite of that for my kids," Maureen said. "The idea of them driving scares me."

All agreed they'll always pick up their kids  and are wary of teen drivers.

In November, Costa, the Kenney sisters and House gathered at the couple's home in Lafayette Hill. Their kids ran around, and the now-adults somberly recalled the accident and fondly remembered their friends.

Sure, every trip past Northwestern Avenue gives them chills and a certain amount of survivors' guilt exists, but each of them say there is purpose to remaining on Earth.

"Still to this day, I feel lucky. But, even in my 20s, I would think, 'Why didn't I die? Mike would have been so much better off than I was,'" Costa said.

House said it's critical to have faith in something more.

"We've all lost great friends, and bad things have happened... But I look at pictures of my son and daughter, and it's like, God didn't want me yet," House said.

And as the friends and family of Mike Luce and Mike Petrucci, Jr. gather on Northwestern Avenue Friday night, they hope their friends know they never forgot.

Click here for info on the vigil.

House, Costa and the Kenneys were the only survivors Patch successfully contacted for this story.

tamara fitzpatrick December 07, 2012 at 04:14 PM
I am Michael Petrucci's cousin writing on behalf of the Petrucci family. We all remember that tragic night so vividly and where we were when our phones rang. It is still incredibly painful for us and some find it much too difficult to visit the sight of that horrific night. Mikie was ours for 16 years and the loss of him could never be filled, no matter the years. Mike was a happy, funny, loving boy who was always smiling and making us smile and laugh. Stories from pre-school through his teen years are talked about often with laughs, as well as tears. We still use many of his funny sayings! Mike spent part of his summers in Florida with our grandfather and loved it and looked forward to it. Not manys teens would want to forgo hanging with friends in the summer for that, but Mikie did because he loved our grandfather and knew that made them both happy. Mike was in the school choir, one of his reasons being was that they traveled to Disney World every year, and that way he could meet up with our grandfather, who would travel there from his home, hours away, to see Mike. He did like to act in shows, yet another way he could make us smile. He was an especially loveable and distinct boy and we were so very fortunate to have him for 16 years. It has been an extemely different life for Mike's parents and our family, never imagining he wouldn't be here with us. We have never stopped missing him, remembering our time with him, and loving him. He will always be "Our Mikie".
james koslosky December 07, 2012 at 11:29 PM
R.I.P.

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