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Route 51 Crash Victim 'Will' Run Again

Whitehall's Juliana Fortunato is recovering from a scary accident in Brentwood in June.

This article was originally published on Aug. 7, 2012.

Everything about a scary accident at the intersection of Brownsville Road and Route 51 on June 16 looked bad.

The intersection was a mess that Saturday morning in Brentwood Borough as a car rested against a utility pole and guardrail along the southbound lane near the Greater Beneficial Union building. Blood was on the road.

The crash also sounded bad, not just for the emergency sirens that accompanied two victims to UPMC Mercy Hospital but as word surfaced three days later from Brentwood police Chief Robert Butelli that a man and a girl were both in comas.

Speculation abounded in the days following the crash. Who were the victims? How did this happen?

Butelli told the Baldwin-Whitehall Patch on June 19 that one of the victims was Laurence McGaffin, a driver in his mid-50s from Whitehall Borough. And the girl who McGaffin's vehicle struck was a 17-year-old jogger, also from Whitehall.

On June 22, a spokesperson from Mercy Hospital called McGaffin's condition "critical," but on July 27, the B-W Patch learned that McGaffin had since left Mercy. His condition is not known. Allegheny County Police Department, which is handling the crash's investigation, has not returned multiple calls for an update.

The family of the jogger, who, as a minor, was not identified by Butelli or anyone else at the time of the accident, has since come forward to identify her as Juliana Fortunato. And Juliana turned 18 on July 13.

Though, realistically, she almost didn't.

Fortunato, known by her loved ones as "Jules," was hit by McGaffin's vehicle on the border of Brentwood and Whitehall at around 8:20 that fateful morning while she was doing something that she loved—simply running near her home.

Jules does most of her running in that area, of course. She'll be a senior at Baldwin High School in Whitehall later this month and is a member of Baldwin High's cross country and track-and-field teams.

And despite life-threatening injuries, she not only hopes to, but plans to run again this fall.

Butelli said on June 19 that Jules was standing on or near a street island close to the Route 51-Brownsville intersection's PNC Bank when she was hit. No known witnesses have come forward with additional information, and because of injuries, Jules does not remember the accident. 

Susan Fortunato, speaking on behalf of her daughter, who is recovering from damage to her jaw as well as other areas, said that she never actually went into a coma. Instead, Susan said that hospital workers kept Jules heavily sedated while she recovered on a ventilator in Mercy's trauma unit.

Susan reached out to the B-W Patch as way to inform neighbors and passers-by of her daughter's condition.

As she explained, "A lot of people that I talked to who passed the scene thought that she was dead. Apparently, the scene was very gruesome.

"I want people to know that she's alive." 

But getting Jules, a student with a 4.0-plus GPA, back to running will not be easy.

While Susan did not wish to go into too many particulars—"I don't want anybody to limit her"—Jules' many injuries included her mouth being wired shut, multiple broken bones and a severe concussion.

"It's hard when you're a parent," Susan said, "and you get that call that, for every parent, is their worst nightmare: 'Do you have a daughter who's a runner? She's on her way to Mercy Hospital.' You can't get there fast enough.

"And then, we go past the accident on the way. We pull over, and the officer who called the house is there. All I ask is, 'Is my baby alive?' That's all I needed to know.

"All he said was, 'Ma'am, I would not lie to you. Yes, she is alive.' And we went on our way ... I've never been so terrified in my life."

Susan went on to describe how her daughter's recovery has been.

"We lived at the hospital," Susan said. "There was always somebody there around the clock (for about two weeks.) She couldn't do anything for herself."

But Jules is steadily improving, so much so that she now walks an hour per day.

"She's really working hard to get back to running," Susan said. "Running is not what she does; running is who she is. She's fighting to regain everything that she lost.

"One of these injuries would be enough to make an adult be weeping in the corner, but add them all together, and ... " Susan trailed off, "she amazes me."

She then told this reporter, "She will be running again. That's gonna be your next story."

Many members of the local running community, including her teammates, have rallied behind Jules, and even Pittsburgh Pirates announcer Greg Brown gave her a birthday shoutout during a ROOT SPORTS broadcast.

"I want to thank everybody who has reached out to us in their own way," Susan said, "because that's a source of comfort for us to know that so many people are wishing her well.

"(Jules is) one of the hardest-working, most motivated people that I know. She's one of the most disciplined people that I know, and that's what's going to get her through this.

"One of the first questions that she asked (while writing in the air with her fingers in the hospital) was, 'Will I run again?'" 

Rich Wright—Jules' mentor and a cross country and track coach at Baldwin—has joined her on some of her recovery walks and has been moved by the young woman's character.

"I'm just grateful she is recovering and look forward to our walks," Wright said. "It warms me to see her healing and that she has the drive and love to run again.

"My best day this season will be seeing her with our uniform on and running in a race."

What truly caused Jules' accident back on June 16 is still unknown. Butelli said that a stroke or something similar might have injured McGaffin while he was driving before the actual crash. And last word from police was that Brentwood and Allegheny County officials were working to reconstruct the traffic scene.

Susan had no update to offer on McGaffin's condition.

"I know nothing (about McGaffin)," she said. "My focus has been on Juliana and everything that she has been going through ... I hope Mr. McGaffin, wherever he is, makes a complete recovery."

Because of the time of day of the accident, witnesses have been hard to find. If you have any information regarding the incident, contact Allegheny County police at 412-473-1200.

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Paula Lim August 07, 2012 at 04:31 PM
With Rich Wright on her side, Jules can't help but get back to running! I wish you all of the success in the world.
Dave "Mr. Brentwood but I Love Baldwin" August 08, 2012 at 02:46 AM
Is life worth living? Yes it is for sure. As I parent and an athlete all I can say is she will perservere and she will God's will, will be done.
Anne August 08, 2012 at 10:48 AM
Thanks for writing a follow-up article. I was in that area just as the accident happened - one of many people who didn't actually see it happen - and I've thought of those involved many times. May they have strength as they go through the next steps in their recovery.
Robert Edward Healy, III August 10, 2012 at 04:18 PM
Thank you for the kind words regarding the writing, folks, and thank you, Susan Fortunato, for granting the interview. Best of luck to both Jules and Laurence McGaffin in their recoveries.
Robert Edward Healy, III October 16, 2012 at 02:49 PM
If you hadn't seen this video update yet: http://patch.com/A-yFfq.

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