Local News

Neighbors Shocked By News Of Smithfield Family's Death In Pa. Wreck

Posted July 10, 2003

— A day after a fiery car crash in Pennsylvania took the lives of a Smithfield couple and their three children, friends back home couldn't believe the family is gone.

Ken and Janet Kerr and their children, 16 year-old Shauna, 12 year-old Katie and 4-year-old Kenny, died as a result of the crash, Janet and the kids dying at the scene on Monday and Ken dying in the hospital Tuesday morning.

From the neighborhood where they lived, to the sheriff's office where Janet worked, an entire community was left reeling over the deaths.

The family was heading home to Smithfield from a holiday visit. But in a matter of minutes, tragedy struck when a tractor-trailer ran a stop sign and drove right into their path.

"Oh, my God," said Greg Malave, a neighbor of the Kerrs, when he heard the news Tuesday. " I pray for them."

Witnesses to the accident could only watch in horror.

"It was so intense you couldn't do anything," said Merlin Batykefer Jr. "I turned around and started to walk away. My sister yelled, and I looked back, and there's this guy crawling out from underneath there."

The man was Ken Kerr, who had been driving the car and somehow had gotten out after the car became lodged under the truck and burst into flames.

While he crawled away, his wife and children were trapped inside.

"We got him out," said Merlin Batyekefer Sr. "He was saying: 'My family, my family.' And I asked him how many was in there, and he said my wife and my kids."

Neighbor Margie Cobbett used to go for walks with Janet Kerr, while the kids followed on their bikes.

"I keep thinking about the kids," Cobbett said. "especially the 4-year-old."

Janet Kerr used to be a a school resource officer with the Johnston County Sheriff's Office. Sheriff Steve Bizzell remembered Tuesday how excited Janet was to land her first job.

"She had a big heart for the kids," Bizzell said. "She loved kids and did a great job in the schools. It is a tragic situation."

The driver of the tractor trailer, identified as Ejub Grcic, is charged with five counts of vehicular homicide. He spoke Croatian through an interpreter in court Tuesday.

Grcic also faces charges for not being able to communicate in English -- the language of the roads he was driving.

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