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Duo in Fatal Crash Face Court Dates This Week

Police: Car that struck school bus was traveling 107 mph before wreck

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
December 18, 2023
Posted in: Crime and Police News

Samantha Lee Kalkbrenner, 15, of Dravosburg was killed when the school van in which she was riding was struck by a car on Richland Avenue. Four other occupants of the van, including the driver, were injured. Police have charged two men in connection with Kalkbrenner’s death. (Photo courtesy Serra Catholic High School)

Two men accused by police of causing a school-bus crash on Dravosburg Hill that killed a 15-year-old student and injured four other people are scheduled for preliminary hearings this week.

In court filings, Allegheny County homicide detectives said that license-plate cameras, onboard vehicle computers and witness testimony led them to charge William R. Soliday II, 43, of Irwin, and Andrew N. Voigt, 37, of Penn Hills, in connection with the Sept. 20 death of Samantha Kalkbrenner, a sophomore at Serra Catholic High School.

“Because of the senselessness and the recklessness of the one defendant, Soliday, we think this is a murder case,” Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. said. “We believe they were racing.”

According to court documents, both men work at nearby Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory. Investigators allege that Soliday’s high-performance Volkswagen Jetta GLI was traveling at 107 mph before it slammed into the school bus in which Kalkbrenner and three classmates were riding.

Soliday is currently being held without bond in Allegheny County Jail pending a preliminary hearing Friday before Magisterial District Judge Kim Berkeley Clark in Pittsburgh.

Voigt — who police said was also driving a high-performance vehicle, a Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk — is currently free after posting $150,000 cash bond. He faces a preliminary hearing Thursday before Magisterial District Judge Oscar Petite Jr.

The charges filed last week by Allegheny County police confirm rumors that had circulated for weeks that two vehicles had been seen traveling at a high rate of speed — “chasing one another” or “racing,” according to witnesses — across the Mansfield Bridge before the fatal accident on Richland Avenue.

Despite intense public interest, county police had remained close-lipped about the investigation until Thursday.

“We are grateful for your patience as we worked through this lengthy investigation,” Allegheny County Police Superintendent Chris Kearns said at a press conference.

“It’s a complex, complicated investigation,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we were thorough and complete in our investigation, and we wanted to work with the district attorney’s office to make sure we were getting all of the evidence that was available.”

Allegheny County police Lt. Venerando Costa commended the work of McKeesport police detectives in collecting evidence to help build the case that led to the arrests, as well as members of the Dravosburg community who stopped and rendered assistance at the scene.

McKeesport police provide service to Dravosburg under contract.

Kalkbrenner had been picked up by the Serra Catholic mini-bus at her home only moments before the crash, witnesses said. Her death and the injuries suffered by the other occupants triggered an intense outpouring of grief from McKeesport area residents and students from high schools in neighboring communities, many of whom raised money for the Kalkbrenner family.

According to documents filed in Allegheny County Night Court, both Soliday and Voigt work at Bettis Laboratory, a joint U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Energy facility operated by Fluor Marine Propulsion, LLC, only one mile from the scene of the crash near the Dravosburg Mini-Mart.

The company has confirmed the duo’s employment but has had no further comment on what jobs they held at the plant, which also includes the U.S. Navy’s Bettis Reactor Engineering School.

Police said that cameras on the bus, as well as a dashboard camera on a passing vehicle, recorded the collision.

Zappala described the videos as “very graphic” and show one of the injured students being ejected from the van onto the roof of the Jetta. He said that investigators are reluctant to release the videos to the public before a trial.

The VW Jetta GLI — described by its manufacturer as offering “heart-racing power” — virtually “exploded” upon impact with the school van, Zappala said.

The vehicle’s onboard diagnostic computer recorded a speed of 107 mph just a second before the crash, he said. According to the criminal complaint, the Jetta’s throttle was wide-open until two seconds before impact.

“There are no skid marks, there is no visual barrier for at least 600 feet before impact, that would explain this,” Zappala said. “This is absolutely an irresponsible act. We do intend to proceed with this as a murder case.”

Voigt’s Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk is advertised by its manufacturer as having “the heart and spirit of a track-tuned race car,” capable of reaching 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds.

Court documents state that license-plate cameras recorded the Trackhawk in the parking lot of a convenience store on East Fifth Avenue in McKeesport at 7:17 a.m. Police said the Trackhawk pulled out into traffic as Soliday’s Jetta approached.

Five minutes later, another camera at the corner of West Fifth Avenue and Romine Avenue captured both cars heading westbound toward the Mansfield Bridge, police said.

The crash happened two minutes later, police said.

According to criminal complaints, cameras on the school bus record its driver, Rick Maleski, coming to a full stop at the corner of Third Street and Richland Avenue, and checking traffic conditions “multiple times” before making a left turn toward the Mansfield Bridge.

Two seconds after beginning the turn, the van was struck by the Jetta and flipped onto its side, according to affidavits.

Kalkbrenner and two other students, whose names were not released, were ejected from the van. One of the students suffered a fractured collar bone and burns, while another suffered a spinal fracture and a concussion, police said.

Maleski’s injuries included broken ribs, a broken sternum, contusions and abrasions, police said.

The school van was equipped with seat belts, Zappala said, but the decision on whether to require students to wear the belts is a matter of school policy. He said he did not know Serra Catholic’s policy on seat belt use.

At least six different witnesses told investigators they saw the Jetta and the Trackhawk traveling at high rates of speed north across the Mansfield Bridge toward Dravosburg just before the crash, the criminal complaint states.

One driver said he was traveling 40 to 45 mph when both vehicles passed him “like I was standing still.” The Trackhawk appeared to be “fishtailing” — sliding back and forth — and “wobbling,” as if the driver was having difficulty maintaining control, he said.

Two witnesses described the vehicles as either “racing” or “chasing” each other, according to the criminal complaint.

Police allege that dash-camera video also shows the Trackhawk passing through the accident scene without slowing down.

“Dozens of people stopped and tried to render assistance,” Zappala said. “Voigt sees what happens and just keeps on going. That’s cold. Good luck with that with a jury.”

According to the criminal complaints, police allege that Voigt was interviewed by detectives shortly after the accident, but that he gave incomplete or erroneous statements. Voigt, police said, denied knowing Soliday, but admitted that after the crash, he drove back to his home, got another vehicle, and left the Jeep Trackhawk behind.

In the affidavit, police said that Voigt also removed a distinctive decal from the back window of the Trackhawk, in a possible attempt to keep the Jeep from being identified.

Zappala said prosecutors filed homicide charges because of the specific circumstances involved.

“We don’t want to see this happen again,” he said. “Driving is a privilege. Driving 107 mph at 7:25 a.m., when kids are going to school? If you do stuff like that, you are a murderer.”

Since the accident, Dravosburg officials and Allegheny County, which maintains Richland Avenue, have erected signs restricting turns against oncoming traffic, including at the intersection where the van was struck.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and the state Department of Transportation also are collaborating on placement of a traffic signal at the intersection of Richland and Fifth to allow left turns.

McKeesport police Chief Mark Steele said the department is working with Dravosburg Borough, state and county officials to add additional signage and barriers along Richland Avenue. In addition, he said, both McKeesport and state police are currently conducting aggressive traffic enforcement in the area.

“Enforcement is going to be heavy for the next several months,” Steele said.

Soliday is charged by Allegheny County police with homicide, homicide by vehicle, recklessly endangering another person, aggravated assault by vehicle, racing on highways, careless driving, reckless driving and exceeding the speed limit by 78 mph.

Voigt is charged by county police with causing an accident involving death or personal injury, leaving the scene of an accident, recklessly endangering other persons, driving at unsafe speeds, racing on highways, careless driving, reckless driving, and exceeding the speed limit by 65 mph.

Originally published December 18, 2023.

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