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East Neighborhoods
Home fix-it project turns fatal

Man stabbed trying to use knife as makeshift wrench

Friday, March 28, 2003

By Jonathan D. Silver, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Alicia Neal said she warned her husband not to use a butcher knife to tighten the screws in their granddaughter's crib. An Allen wrench was needed.

Thinking John Neal Sr. had heeded her advice, she said, she went to the basement to do laundry.

"The next thing I heard was him running down the steps and hollering, 'Call the paramedics! I fell on the knife!' " Alicia Neal said yesterday. "My son ran and got the phone and called the paramedics. I took a towel and put it up to his throat and applied pressure. The last thing he said was, 'Tell everybody I love them.' "

Neal Sr., of Penn Hills, a 20-year employee of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, was rushed to UPMC Presbyterian, where he died at 8:40 p.m. Wednesday. He was 42.

The Allegheny County coroner's office has not ruled on the manner of Neal's death pending further investigation. Penn Hills police and county homicide detectives are looking into the case.

The Neals, of Key Drive, were married for 22 years. Neal Sr. worked for PennDOT for about the same length of time. During the last five years, he was a tunnel maintenance supervisor in charge of the Squirrel Hill Tunnel.

"He was a wonderful husband, a wonderful father, a good provider, and he's going to be well-missed by family and friends," Alicia Neal, 43, said. "It was a terrible accident."

Recently, the Neals' 20-year-old son, John Jr., moved back in with the family with his daughter, 5-month-old Nadia.

It was Nadia's crib that Neal Sr. was working on when he suffered the stab wound.

His wife said she had assembled the crib a few days ago and had asked her husband to make sure the screws were properly tightened.

"He had got the butcher knife, and I told him that the knife wouldn't work," Alicia Neal said. "He had to use the Allen wrench" -- a small L-shaped tool with a hexagonal tip that fits snugly into the face of certain screws.

Alicia Neal said her husband returned to the kitchen. She figured he was going to rummage through a junk drawer for an Allen wrench, so she went downstairs to do laundry. John Jr. was also doing wash. Nadia was asleep upstairs.

The next sounds Alicia Neal said she heard were John Sr.'s shouts. What happened in the bedroom that led to his cries, she can't say.

"I have no idea," she said. "I can't even imagine."

Jonathan D. Silver can be reached at jsilver@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1962.

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