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Amish Teen Killed in U.S. 35 Buggy Crash

Jason Reese

Around 9:30 p.m. last Thursday, there was a fatal chain-reaction accident involving three cars and a horse-drawn buggy on U.S. 35. The accident, which occurred just south of Economy, resulted in the death of one of the buggy’s passengers, Jonas Beiler, of Economy. Beiler, just 17 years of age, was pronounced dead at the scene. There were no other human injuries, though the horse pulling the cart was taken for veterinary care.

The initial investigation appears to show the buggy, driven by Michael Lapp and carrying two passengers, was northbound on U.S. 35 with no lights on. Martin Lawson of Hagerstown was also northbound in his 2009 Ford but did not see the buggy until it was too late. He rear-ended the buggy and knocked it into the southbound lanes where it was sideswiped by a vehicle driven by Norman Zile of Middletown. That collision appears to have caused the ejection of Jonas Beiler from the buggy. After landing in the northbound lane, Beiler was killed when he was struck by a Pontiac driven by 17-year-old Bailey Wilkison.

U.S. 35 was closed for hours on Friday night and early Saturday morning while Indiana State Police, including a Crash Reconstructionist, worked with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department, Perry Township Fire Department, and Culberson Ambulance Service to serve the victims, conduct an investigation into the accident and clear the roads for use. The investigation is ongoing.

Buggy Accidents Not Uncommon in Indiana Amish Country

There are 270,000 Amish in the United States, with 65% of the population residing in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. Indiana alone is home to over 50,000 Amish residents, a number that has doubled over the past twenty years. Elkhart and the surrounding counties in northeast Indiana house the second largest Amish population in the United States, but there are also smaller, newer settlements, such as the one in eastern Indiana near Economy and Hagerstown.

When traveling in one of the states with larger Amish populations, it is not unusual to see the horse-and-buggies driving on the roads. It is critically important for drivers of other vehicles to be aware and alert for these slower-moving road occupants. It’s easy to assume accidents involving buggies are rare; however, Ohio and Pennsylvania report around 60 major crashes involving buggies each year.

When the Ohio Department of Transportation reviewed these kinds of accidents, they found approximately half resulted in injuries and 1% led to a fatality. These numbers are slightly higher than what you would see in crashes where both vehicles were motorized. The review also showed that the most common accident was a rear-end collision, often caused by a misjudgment of how slowly the buggy was traveling.

In all three states, there is growing interest in working to ensure greater safety for those operating buggies on the roadways, but it is important the work be undertaken carefully and in a way respectful of the Amish lifestyle. At Wagner Reese, we urge everyone to be cautious and respect others on the road. If you or someone you know has been injured in a buggy accident, please call our Indiana-based vehicular accident attorneys for your risk-free, no-cost consultation: (888) 204-8440.


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