A Lower Merion firefighter died — the second in less than a month — and two others were seriously injured, along with a Pennsylvania State Police trooper, early Saturday morning after a driver struck them at the scene of another crash in the westbound lanes of I-76, according to State Police.
State Police said they responded to a collision involving a 2017 Chevrolet Malibu and a 2017 Nissan Altima just after 3 a.m. near the Gladwyne exit of the highway. Firefighters from the Belmont Hills Fire Company and Gladwyne Fire Company were already on the scene and blocking the right lane and shoulder, police said.
As they were getting ready to leave, a Jeep Grand Cherokee driven by Jacquelyn Walker, of Pemberton, Burlington County, on the right shoulder struck a state trooper, three Belmont Hills firefighters, and the Altima, according to police and fire officials.
One of the firefighters, identified as Tom Royds, 49, went into cardiac arrest at the scene and was taken by ambulance to Paoli Hospital, where he died later Saturday morning, according to a statement by Belmont Hills Fire Company.
The two other firefighters were flown to Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in West Philadelphia, where they underwent surgery Saturday morning, according to the statement by Belmont Hills Fire Company. The trooper was taken by ambulance to Penn Presbyterian. Their identities and conditions were not disclosed Saturday.
Royds “loved his job. We all love our job. You know it’s dangerous, and God, you don’t ever think something like this is going to happen,” Lower Merion Chief Fire Officer Charles McGarvey said at a news conference Saturday afternoon at the Belmont Hills firehouse. “We’ve had it twice. Twice in the last three weeks.”
Sean DeMuynck, a volunteer with the Penn Wynne-Overbrook Fire Company, died July 4 while battling a house fire in Wynnewood.
Walker was arrested and charged with homicide by vehicle, according to police. McGarvey said officials believe Walker drove on the highway’s shoulder to get around the initial accident scene, but an investigation is ongoing.
The drivers in the initial crash, Tyre Malik McCall, of King of Prussia, and Cole Henry Strempel, of Pottstown, were charged with driving under the influence, police said.
Royds was a father of three and a career firefighter serving at both Union Fire Association in Bala Cynwyd and Belmont Hills, McGarvey said. In his off time, he also volunteered with the Clifton Heights Fire Company. His brother Bob works for Lower Merion Township’s Public Works Department, McGarvey said.
The scene at the Belmont Hills firehouse, where black bunting was draped above the garage doors and on the front of fire trucks, was emotional Saturday. An American flag was at half-staff. The chief got choked up a few times while speaking to reporters. Firefighters, friends, and family members cried and embraced one another.
In less than a month, the township’s first responder community was again in mourning.
Bob Meals, 51, a Lower Merion resident and member of the Bryn Mawr Fire Company, said he grew up with Royds and knew him for 30 years. He said his friend loved his kids and playing softball. And he seemed to always be at the firehouse.
”A good family man,” Meals said. “He loved people. He was hardworking and he’d do anything for you.”