Thursday, 9 a.m. — Story updated with names of those killed in the accident.
A two-vehicle crash on Wednesday, August 21 has claimed the lives of the drivers of the two vehicles, according to police.
Sheriff K.C. Bohrer on Thursday morning identified the deceased as Richard N. Keefer, 53, of Buzzard Acres in Berkeley Springs and Dennis A. Rhinehart, 76, of Luther Michael Road in Berkeley Springs. Sheriff Bohrer said the identity of Rhinehart is presumed, based on identification and registration of the vehicle in the accident. He said post mortem identification will be needed to officially confirm the driver’s identity because of the extent of burn injuries.
The fatal collision happened at 2:50 p.m. in the 5200 block of Valley Road south of Berkeley Springs near Caperton Furnitureworks. According to a press release from the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department, police had been alerted to look out for a blue Dodge Ram pickup truck that had been involved in a road rage incident which began in Berkeley County. That truck entered Morgan County on Martinsburg Road and continued into the downtown Berkeley Springs area, where it rammed a vehicle at the intersection of Union Street and U.S. 522. Town of Bath Chief T.J. Johnson responded to the incident and found the truck driving erratically on U.S. 522 heading south. The driver, Dennis Rhinehart, fled when Chief Johnson attempted to make a traffic stop, a police press release said. Rhinehart continued south on U.S. 522.
“The suspect driver continued southbound of US 522 for several miles. Johnson continued to try and stop the vehicle and use his emergency equipment and all available means to warn motorist on the highway. Johnson reported the southbound suspect swerving in to the northbound lane several times,” the department press release said. According to police, Rhinehart swerved into the northbound lane of U.S. 522 just south of the Berkeley Springs Bowling Alley and struck a northbound vehicle head-on.
That northbound vehicle was described by police as a silver GMC truck pulling a trailer loaded with logs. The driver of the truck was Richard “Rick” Keefer. Both trucks were extensively damaged by the crash, and fire began in the engine of the Dodge Ram and was unable to be extinguished by police officers on the scene. Lt. Seth Place and Cpl. Kevin Barney worked to get the occupants of Keefer’s GMC truck while Sheriff K.C. Bohrer attempted to put out the fire in the Dodge Ram. According to police, Rhinehart’s truck became fully engulfed before fire units arrived on the scene.
Upon arrival, multiple fire and EMS units identified two people entrapped in the two separate vehicles. Responders extracted Keefer and passenger Robert Bowles, 36, from the silver GMC truck and extinguished the fire in the other vehicle. Rhinehart was pronounced dead at the scene by Morgan County Medical Examiner Christy Duckwall. Keefer was transported to Winchester Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Bowles was also transported to Winchester Medical Center for treatment of his injuries.
U.S 522 was shut down for roughly three hours to allow for response and recovery operations. Cpl. Scott Lemon conducted the accident reconstruction.
Units responding to the accident included Berkeley Springs, Great Cacapon and South Morgan fire and rescue units, three Morgan County EMS units, Hancock EMS, Reynold’s Store Fire Department (Va.), West Virginia Department of Highways and the Morgan County Deputy Reserves. Needmore (Pa.) and Maugansville (Md.) fire units covered the Berkeley Springs Fire Department during the accident operations.
A police investigation is ongoing by Sheriff Bohrer, Lt. Place and Cpl. Lemon.