Local businessman killed in crash tied to road rage, suspect dies on scene
by KATE SHUNNEY
Two separate motor vehicle accidents within 36 hour of each other on U.S. 522 claimed the lives of three local men last week.
Both collisions happened south of Berkeley Springs.
A two-vehicle crash on Wednesday, August 21 claimed the lives of the drivers of the two vehicles. Richard Keefer, 53, of Berkeley Springs was killed when his truck was struck head-on by another truck driven by Dennis A. Rhinehart, 76, also of Berkeley Springs.
A single-vehicle accident in the early morning hours of Friday, August 23 killed the driver in that incident. He was identified as Wesley T. Mowery Jr., 34, of Hancock.
Wednesday crash tied to road rage
Police have said Keefer, the owner of Rick’s Tip Top Tree Service, was driving a Silver GMC truck northbound on U.S. 522 pulling a trailer loaded with logs on Wednesday afternoon when his truck was hit by a blue Dodge pickup truck driven by Rhinehart.
The fatal collision happened at 2:50 p.m. in the 5200 block of Valley Road south of Berkeley Springs near Caperton Furnitureworks.
At the time of the crash, police were following Rhinehart’s truck southbound on U.S. 522 from the scene of an earlier collision on Union Street in downtown Berkeley Springs.
In that incident, Rhinehart’s blue Dodge rear-ended another pickup truck repeatedly at the Union Street intersection with U.S. 522 in an apparent “road rage” assault.
Town of Bath Chief T.J. Johnson responded to a 911 call about the incident and found Rhinehart’s truck driving erratically on U.S. 522 heading south in the area of Myers Road. The driver fled Chief Johnson for several miles and swerved into the northbound lane several times before striking Keefer’s truck south of the Berkeley Springs bowling alley.
Rhinehart’s Dodge caught fire after the collision.
Lt. Seth Place and Cpl. Kevin Barney worked to get to the occupants of Keefer’s GMC truck while Sheriff K.C. Bohrer attempted to put out the fire in Rhinehart’s vehicle. According to police, Rhinehart’s truck became fully engulfed before fire units arrived.
The driver was pronounced dead at the scene by Morgan County Medical Examiner Christy Duckwall.
Morgan County Sheriff K.C. Bohrer said post mortem identification would be needed to officially confirm the driver’s identity because of the extent of burn injuries.
A passenger in Keefer’s truck, identified by police as Robert Bowles, 36, survived the crash and was transported to Winchester Medical Center for medical treatment. Keefer was transported to Winchester Medical Center as a trauma patient, said responders, but did not survive.
U.S 522 was shut down for roughly three hours to allow for response and recovery operations. Cpl. Scott Lemon of the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department 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.
Sheriff Bohrer said police are awaiting toxicology reports from Rhinehart’s body and are still seeking information about his actions and location prior to the afternoon crash.
Friday crash claims one
An early morning single vehicle accident on Friday, August 23 in the 8000 block of Valley Road claimed the life of Wesley Todd Mowery, 34. Deputy Luke Shambaugh and Lt. Seth Place are the lead investigators in the case.
Fire and rescue units were dispatched to the location near Rock Gap Road shortly after midnight.
The Sheriff’s Department was already on the scene and reported a single vehicle off the roadway and into trees, with heavy damage to the vehicle and the driver entrapped. Sheriff Bohrer said Mowery was northbound on U.S. 522 and his vehicle went off the east side of the roadway.
Fire company officials said rescue company personnel assessed the condition of the driver, determining him to be deceased. Fire personnel then stabilized the vehicle and extracted the driver. Police conducted an on-scene investigation and collected evidence to determine the cause of the crash.
According to Sheriff Bohrer, it appears that speed played a factor in the crash.
Fire units cleared the accident scene at 3 a.m., reopening U.S. 522 to traffic.
Units operating on the scene or responding included units from Berkeley Springs, South Morgan and Reynold’s Store.