Cars Collide on Route 4: Woman in Critical Condition After Two-Car Collision in Quechee
Above, Vermont Agency of Transportation worker Henry Marcy cleans up debris and absorbent material for the auto fluids from a two car accident on Route 4 in Quechee yesterday morning. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Hartford Deputy Chief Brad Vail, left, and Patrol Officer Jon Kustafik discuss the collision. Two people were transported to the hospital from the scene. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Hartford Public Safety Director Steven Locke looks over the scene of a two car accident on Route 4 in Quechee yesterday morning, while, to the right, Hartford Deputy Chief Brad Vail takes measurements. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Quechee — A West Lebanon woman was in critical condition last night after the car she was driving collided with an oncoming vehicle on Route 4, the latest in a string of serious accidents on the thoroughfare in recent months.
Hartford police said 72-year-old Ingrid Neuwirt was traveling east shortly after 9 a.m. yesterday when her 1997 Toyota Camry struck a westbound 2009 Subaru Outback.
The other driver, 43-year-old Shirley Adams, of White River Junction, sustained non-life threatening injuries and was conscious at the scene. Both women were taken by ambulance to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Adams was treated and released.
Emergency responders used hydraulic rescue tools to remove both women from their cars, said Hartford Public Safety Director Steven Locke. Neither vehicle had additional passengers.
“It’s still under investigation, but it appears that it was a line-crossing event,” said Hartford Deputy Chief Brad Vail. Although police are still determining who may have crossed the centerline, he said evidence at the scene suggested that it was Neuwirt’s car.
The accident follows three fatal collisions on Route 4 in Hartford and Woodstock since March, prompting those towns’ fire and police chiefs to call for rumble strips to be installed on the centerline of the narrow, winding road. The proposal was first called for by Woodstock Fire Chief L.D. Sutherland last month.
The Camry had been spun around and was resting in the middle of the road, perpendicular to guardrail and straddling the double yellow line.
The accident occurred in a place where the road curves slightly to the right for eastbound travelers, in between the Interstate 89 northbound and southbound exit ramps, west of Costello Road. Data from the Vermont Agency of Transportation show that an average of nearly 8,000 people traveled over that area daily last year.
A stretch of Route 4 surrounding the accident was closed for about an hour-and-a-half while emergency responders and investigators were at the scene, backing up traffic on the exit ramps and forcing drivers to find alternate routes.
As a police officer directed traffic to cars coming off I-89 at exit 1, a motorist rolled down his window and said “Another accident?” “Yeah,” the officer replied. “Jesus,” the motorist said, shaking his head as he turned his truck around.
Vail said yesterday’s accident reinforced his conviction that rumble strips would be a step in the right direction, but he cautioned that installation would not be a “cure-all” and more would need to be done.
“The road itself does need some serious upgrades — it needs to be widened, it needs to be resurfaced and leveled,” he said. “It’s a multimillion project that I understand is going to be 10 years out, but for a quick fix any little bit helps, so the rumble strips would certainly help.”
Ken Robie, the program manager for the Highway Safety & Design Section at VTrans, previously told the Valley News that rumble strips have been installed as part of larger projects for between $500 and $1,000 per mile. While a 3.5-mile stretch of the road in Hartford is scheduled for repair this summer, Robie said a comprehensive redesign is in the preliminary planning stages and it could take a decade before the road is overhauled.
Vail said Hartford police are increasing their patrols along Route 4 because the uptick in accidents is so unusual. Gov. Peter Shumlin, Sen. John Campbell and state transportation officials are expected to meet at the Hartford police station today to discuss the road’s problems.
“By nature, you do have more tourists traveling through in the summer time,” he said, “so we usually have our share of the Quechee Gorge rear-enders at the crosswalk ... (but) this type of accident is more prevalent this year, and we don’t know why, we don’t know what exactly the problem is.”
Fatal accidents on Route 4 this year include:
∎ A three-car collision in early March, killing Corey Daniels, 38, of Hartford, and Nina Dimick, 63, of Woodstock. Hartford police said that Daniels’ car was traveling east when it crossed the centerline near the Fat Hat Factory, struck the rear wheel of a westbound utility vehicle and then collided head-on with Dimick’s vehicle, which also was traveling west.
∎ An accident in May on a curve at the Hartford-Hartland line. Hartland resident Patience Hutt, 40, died when her Subaru collided with an empty horse trailer. The cause of the accident remains under investigation.
∎ A two-car crash one week later in west Woodstock. A sedan driven by 84-year-old Bridgewater woman Norma Sawyer was traveling east when it collided with a box truck headed west, killing Sawyer and seriously injuring her passenger, and sending the box truck over the embankment. That cause of that crash remains under investigation, as well.
There have been various other crashes on that road this year, including a single-car accident caused by a driver who police say was texting on the same day as the crash that killed Sawyer. Most recently, two cars collided in a minor fender bender near the Quechee Gorge on Wednesday.
And the history of fatal accidents stretches back much further: Each fire chief has said he could recall at least a half-dozen fatalities from his respective town over the history of 20-year careers.
Although the cause of each of the crashes varies — and, in some cases, has yet to be determined — emergency responders have said centerline rumble strips would be a step in the right direction for reducing fatalities.
While pumping gas at the Quechee Mobil station yesterday, Woodstock resident Lynne Newton said the recent string of accidents crosses her mind when she’s driving on Route 4 these days — as well as when she knows her 18- and 20-year-old children are driving on it.
“It’s scary. There’s only one road going east-west this way and major large trucks travel it, and it’s a winding road, and you just have to be very, very alert, because the pavement is uneven,” Newton said. “Going around a turn, it will pull you left or right.”
She’s particularly concerned about drivers behind the wheel while using cell phones, which, in today’s digital age, are becoming increasingly visual distractions because of social media applications like Instagram and Facebook. She concurred with Vail that rumble-strips would be a good idea, yet not a complete solution.
But inside the gas station and convenience store, employee Kelly DePalo was doubtful that centerline rumble strips would make a difference.
“You need people to stay off their cell phones,” she said, “and we need the pavement to get fixed out here so that people don’t get sucked off into the guardrails or ride the middle wondering if someone’s going to come their way.”
Valley News Staff Writer Chris Fleisher contributed to this report. Maggie Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3220.