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Van Goes Over Cliff, Grandmother & 3 Kids Critically Hurt

FAYETTE COUNTY (KDKA) -- Neighbors watched as EMS crews pulled three of four occupants out of a Dodge van that careened over a steep cliff, fell 150 feet, and came to rest upside down at the bottom of the hill.

The victims were a grandmother, and three of her granddaughters, aged 10, 12 and 13. The girl's mother, Amanda Hixenbaugh, said they were actually on their way to a church picnic.

Outside Children's Hospital, Amanda Hixenbaugh told KDKA-TV's Ralph Iannotti that her mother, 58-year-old Sharon Rafter, was behind the wheel of the van at the time of the accident, which happened late Sunday morning, on Main Street, in Smock.

State Police said Rafter was distracted, and swerved when she saw another vehicle coming toward her, she drove off the road and over the cliff.

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(Photo Credit: Ed Riedmann)

Two of Amanda's daughters, 13-year-old Jasmine Anderson and 12-year-old Jolene Anderson, are at Children's Hospital. Jolene's injuries appear to be the most serious.

"Right now, she's in back surgery, her vertebra in the lower back was shattered; when she went into surgery, she was paralyzed," Hixenbaugh said.

The youngest child, Kayla Anderson, was flown to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown.

Hixenbaugh's mother is in UPMC Presbyterian Hospital.

She has a fractured neck, and bleeding in her brain, according to her daughter. A family member said, in fact, all four occupants of the van were wearing seat belts at the time of the accident.

Various family members and close friends are now keeping vigil at the three hospitals.

"We're all trying to keep in touch with each other; keep each other posted, and lots of prayers, lots and lots of prayers," Hixenbaugh said.

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