The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

November 16, 2013

John Zdelar’s death must not get overshadowed in tragedy

By Lynn Saternow
Herald Sports Editor

- — John was obviously a good man who had married Kim Gibson in 2009 and accepted the role of stepfather.

He was well-known in auto racing circles. He was former crew chief for Rex King and the King Brothers, who are widely recognized at area tracks and even at national venues.

I received an e-mail from Don Blaney, who lives in Harrisburg, N.C., and is related to the Blaney racing family that owns Sharon Speedway. He had read online my Sunday column about learning lessons from the accident.

Don’s son George and NASCAR driver Dave Blaney both started racing together at the age of 9 and still is involved in the sport.

“Johnny was a really good friend of mine; we raced together,” said Don. “Heck, he even hot-lapped my car at Sharon Speedway because he wanted to see how it felt to drive a race car.”

“...  Kids these days don`t show respect and understand what can happen if they lose control. NHRA drag racer Doug Herbert had the same thing happen to his two  boys here in Charlotte, N.C.,  a few years back and he started a program called BRAKES.

“I think the local area back home needs to look into this program before another nasty accident happens.”

The link to the web is http://www.putonthebrakes.com

Obviously another thing that needs to be looked into is putting the cement barriers in the middle of the lanes for that section of Connelly Boulevard. You have to wonder why much of the rest of the Shenango Valley Freeway has barriers but not there.

PennDOT officials said they would look into it. Great. Barriers should have been constructed after the deaths of a local couple in 2007 near the same site on the freeway. PennDOT’s previous review resulted in putting rumble strips at the center of the road.

Really! Rumble strips. The only thing they are good for in a situation like this is to let you know one or two seconds before you are about to be killed in a wreck. Wake up PennDOT.

The worst part is: I talked to Fred Hoffman, former president of Sharon City Council, and he said they had requested that PennDOT put up barriers but the request was rejected.

But as we focus on the deaths of John and the two Sharon players, Corey Swartz and Evan Gill, we have to consider the blessing that two players — Craig and Greg Osmon — as well as two boys in the pickup survived.

John’s stepson Evan Wallace, 10, and neighbor boy, Blake Yendrek, 12, were both injured, although not critically.

The two younger kids were very brave at the scene, where I arrived less than a minute  after the crash. Everyone should be very proud of the two youngsters in John’s truck for the strength they showed, despite the terrible situation.

I rushed to the pickup right away, since another person went to the vehicle carrying the players. Blake was already out of the vehicle and on the ground and I made sure he was OK before lifting Evan out of the damaged pickup. I positioned them on the ground and saw they didn’t appear to have any life-threatening injuries. So I told them they had to stay strong, but not to move away from there while I went to attend to John in the truck.

I made sure they couldn't see the rest of the accident scene - or John - and asked another man to keep an eye on them while I went to attend to John.

Hopefully, the boys will make a full recovery physically and mentally. The horrendous scene will be hard to forget for anyone who witnessed it.

And I will never forget John Zedlar, whom I had never met. While we weren’t able to save him – the emergency response crews did everything possible – because of the serious trauma he received in the wreck, it’s important that his loss isn’t overshadowed by the deaths of the young football players.

I was glad to see that at the Sharon-Girard game in Erie Monday, when they held a moment of silence, they mentioned it was for all three — Corey, Evan and John. That’s as it should be.

All three left us much too early.



The Herald’s Lynn Saternow writes this column each Saturday for the Opinion Page. His e-mail is lsaternow@sharonherald.com.