Firefighter struck and killed by train while searching for missing woman

Edwin J.  "Lance" Wentzel, 57, was a 35-year veteran of the Youngwood Volunteer Fire Department in Pennsylvania's Westmoreland County.
Youngwood Volunteer Fire Deparment/Facebook

NORTH VERSAILLES, Pa. - A volunteer firefighter was struck by a train and killed as he helped to search for a missing woman, CBS station KDKA in Pittsburgh reported Sunday.

Edwin J. "Lance" Wentzel, 57, was a 35-year veteran of the Youngwood Volunteer Fire Department in Westmoreland County. He was hit from behind by a Norfolk Southern freight train.

Wentzel was part of a team from the fire department who brought dogs to help in the search for 55-year-old Ruth Mullennix of Wilmerding. She has been missing since the night of March 17.

The search area was near the railroad tracks beneath the Westinghouse Bridge in North Versailles Township, located 12 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Mullennix's coat and cellphone were found Thursday in a rail yard beneath the bridge.

Wentzel was walking alongside the railroad tracks early Saturday evening when the train approached him from behind.

KDKA Photographer Bryce Lutz witnessed the accident.

"I was shooting video, I was zoomed in, and the guy was walking along the gravel, he walked up onto the tracks and he didn't see the train coming, didn't hear it - I don't know - but it just hit him," Lutz said.

Lutz said he heard a train whistle, but "I'm not sure if it was that train or another train coming from the opposite direction."

Members of the Youngwood Volunteer Fire Department were devastated by the accident. Wentzel joined the department in 1979 and had served for 35.

"He held numerous positions during his career. He was named the Firefighter of the Year in 2012," the department said in a statement.

Wentzel is survived by his wife, Judy, sons Chris and Jeremy and several grandchildren,

"The members of the Youngwood Volunteer Fire Department wish to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers and ask that you continue to keep Lance's family in your thoughts and prayers," the department wrote on its Facebook page.