Two cousins were killed in a fiery crash early Saturday when a pickup going the wrong direction on the inbound Kensington Expressway collided head-on into their sport utility vehicle.
Police identified the victims as Orlando Anderson, 37, of Buffalo, and Thomas Johnson, no age available, believed to be from Cleveland.
Charges are pending against the driver of the pickup, according to police, who did not release his name.
But sources close to the case identified the pickup operator as Matthew Ruckdaschel, 24, of Getzville, a former high school hockey standout.
Ruckdaschel was listed in critical condition in Erie County Medical Center Saturday night.
"The investigation is still in the preliminary stages and, right now, accident investigators are trying to determine if alcohol did play a role in [Saturday's] accident," said Buffalo police spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge.
The crash occurred about 4:45 a.m. on the inbound Kensington, between East Utica and Best streets.
Investigators are not sure where Ruckdaschel got onto the Kensington or how long he was driving the wrong way.
At least one person tried to stop him.
"From what I understand from investigators, a cab driver, or some type of passer-by, actively tried to flag down this individual in the pickup truck, tried to alert him that he was going in the wrong direction," DeGeorge said. "Unfortunately, that did not happen."
The Jeep Cherokee driven by Anderson was mangled by the collision and Ruckdaschel's pickup burst into flames upon impact. A passer-by helped douse the flames until Buffalo firefighters arrived.
"All three individuals had to be extricated from their vehicles," DeGeorge said.
Anderson and Johnson were pronounced dead at the scene.
"They appear to be relatives -- one from the Buffalo area, one from the Ohio area. They appear to be cousins," DeGeorge said during a news briefing in Buffalo Police Headquarters Saturday night.
Further details about the two victims were not immediately available.
Ruckdaschel, meanwhile, was believed to have suffered a serious head injury and was taken by Rural/Metro ambulance to ECMC.
Information on the pickup operator began to emerge Saturday.
Ruckdaschel was born into a sports family. His father, Charles C. "Rock" Ruckdaschel, was an active volunteer for youth baseball and youth hockey in Amherst before his death in 2003.
His older brother, Michael, and younger brother, Nathan, also were active in sports, especially hockey. Matthew was a standout for the Williamsville North High School hockey team, which won a state title in 2004, when Ruckdaschel was named to the all-tournament team.
Ruckdaschel later enlisted in the Army and served at Camp Casey in South Korea along the border with North Korea, according to a 2007 report in the Amherst Bee.
On his Facebook page, Matthew Ruckdaschel says he is interested in hockey, kayaking, backpacking and mountain climbing. He is listed as a vice president in a once-active family company called BR Dash Corp.
"This is very tragic to have two people killed in this manner," DeGeorge said, "just a very, very tragic incident."
The westbound Kensington was shut down between the Scajaquada Expressway and Jefferson Avenue for more than four hours during the investigation by the Buffalo Police Accident Investigation Unit as firefighters cleared wreckage.
News Staff Reporter Patrick Lakamp contributed to this report.
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