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Survivors Reflect on Deadly Car Crash 20 Years Later (Part 1)

Michael Luce and Michael Petrucci died on Northwestern Avenue Dec. 7, 1992.

Survivors Reflect on Deadly Car Crash 20 Years Later (Part 1)

Dec. 7 remains "the day which will live in infamy" for many Americans. But for 10 Roxborough teens, eight of whom survived, Dec. 7, 1992 is also the day when a reckless joy-riding incident claimed the lives of two young men.

Twenty years ago this Friday, 10 teens left Hillside Recreation Center, piled into a 1983 Ford Fairmont station wagon, destined for Northwestern Avenue at the city limit to see how fun the dangerous side of driving could be.

Less than an hour later, the car barreled down the dead-end road, flashing its lights on and off. Boyz II Men blasted on the radio. Passengers screamed for the wild ride to end. Following a rain storm, the road was slick, causing the car to skid and crash into a tree—killing two Roxborough boys and leaving the surviving eight to pick up the pieces while the song "End of the Road" faintly played in the background.

Four of those eight survivors shared their story with Patch.

Hangin' in Roxborough

Like many Philadelphia neighborhood kids, people hung out at on street corners, parks and restaurants with a variety of people—killing time, screwing around, getting into trouble.

Keith House, 14, Brian Costa, 15, Kevin Leahy, 15, and Michael Petrucci Jr., 16 were neighborhood friends and now students at Roxborough High School. They met Maureen Kenney, 14, and her sister Adrienne, 13, at a St. Lucy's Church dance, and Maureen started dated Costa.

In 1992, Dec. 7 fell on a Monday, and Catholic school students had off for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. That evening, the Kenneys—who lived in East Falls—told their parents they were catching a movie, but instead met up at the Fountain Street recreation center. They played basketball, and thought about going to a dance.

William Kerper, 16, Joseph Briston, 17, Nicole McHugh, 15, and Michael Luce, 20, also killed time that night, shooting hoops, smoking cigarettes, doing whatever.

The ringleader in the motley crew was Petrucci—the Kenneys say he had the best smile in the world. Son of a Philadelphia police sergeant, Petrucci charmed all the girls, scammed his way out trouble, and could pull off normally nerdy activities like acting in plays or playing soccer. To fool his parents, he would roll on the ground in his soccer uniform making it appear like he attended practice. That night, he stopped at Hillside on the way to mail a letter for his mom.

Although older, and a little quirky—the kind of guy who put cigarettes out on his tongue—Luce was accepted as Roxborough kin. His mother had died a few years before, and Luce never really found his place. He always told friends he wanted to die when he turned 21 to see her. His premonition ultimately proved accurate. 

The early December weather was chilly. Adrienne wore a Kelly green Eagles Starter jacket. Luce, Petrucci and Maureen played the basketball game, PIG, with Maureen yelling at Petrucci to put on a belt because his pants kept sagging.

A few days earlier, some neighborhood kids "did Manor Road," Maureen said, which meant "driving down the road without headlights and it's super scary." The remote, overgrown, narrow road near the city limit called to mind a similar street— Northwestern Avenue, located past the Andorra Friendly's near Fairmount Park and the Springfield Township border.

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No one remembers exactly who suggested the idea—some say Petrucci, always a leader, may have volunteered it. Either way, Kerper had a car and some folks were keen to give it a go. 

The Kenneys hesitated, but rationalized he could give them a ride home later. So they gave him their bus fare for gas money, and the 10 kids piled into the station wagon.

Once-in-a-Lifetime Ride

Someone later told police the teens wanted to grab a job application at Friendly's in Andorra, or considered going to the mall. An account in The Philadelphia Inquirer said the car may have just slipped on leaves by accident. None of that was true. 

The kids traveled north through Roxborough, and Kerper eased the car down the treacherous, hilly and leaf-covered Northwestern Avenue.

Briston rode shotgun next to Kerper with House in between. In the backseat, Adrienne sat on the far-right, next to Costa and her sister. Behind the driver, McHugh sat on Leahy's lap, and Petrucci was next to the window. Way in the back, jammed next to a speaker belting Boyz II Men lay Luce.

Mauren recalls a drive of terror. 

"I remember thinking, 'We're going to die.' We all yelled, 'Stop!'" Maureen said. "We were all yelling and screaming. And after that, I remember it just be freezing cold."

Kerper jammed on the gas, barreling down the road. Adrienne said the switch from fun to scary happened shortly after turning onto to Northwestern Avenue. The street lacked any lighting, and the difference between pavement and vegetation was impossible to tell.

For the most part, House said, Kerper controlled the vehicle. They actually nearly finished the ride safely—a Fairmount Park parking lot marked the end of paved road. However, just before Kerper decelerated, he lost control. They may very well have slipped on leaves, but the advanced speed really led to what happened next.

The car swerved, possibly rolled over, and rammed into a tree.

The collision threw Adrienne, House and Petrucci from the car. In the trunk, a speaker crushed Luce. It was 7:25 p.m.

Click here to read part two of the story.

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