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Woman Dies in I-89 Rollover; Downed Utility Lines, Brush Fires Blocked Highway Traffic at Time

  • New Hampshire State Police Trooper Joshua Beauchemin measures a section of guardrail that was hit by a car involved in a fatal accident on Interstate 89 noth in Lebanon N.H., on July 2, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    New Hampshire State Police Trooper Joshua Beauchemin measures a section of guardrail that was hit by a car involved in a fatal accident on Interstate 89 noth in Lebanon N.H., on July 2, 2014.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Purchase photo reprints »

  • The view looking south from exit 19 on Interstate 89 in Lebanon, N.H., shows traffic backing up on the morning of Wednesday, July 2, 2014. The highway was closed at exit 19 for several hours after downed wires caused a brush fire. One motorist died in a rollover acc<br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    The view looking south from exit 19 on Interstate 89 in Lebanon, N.H., shows traffic backing up on the morning of Wednesday, July 2, 2014. The highway was closed at exit 19 for several hours after downed wires caused a brush fire. One motorist died in a rollover acc
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • New Hampshire Police Sgt. Ron Taylor takes measurements at the scene of a fatal car accident on I-89 north near exit 18 in Lebanon, N.H., on July 2, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    New Hampshire Police Sgt. Ron Taylor takes measurements at the scene of a fatal car accident on I-89 north near exit 18 in Lebanon, N.H., on July 2, 2014.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • New Hampshire State Police Trooper Joshua Beauchemin measures a section of guardrail that was hit by a car involved in a fatal accident on Interstate 89 noth in Lebanon N.H., on July 2, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • The view looking south from exit 19 on Interstate 89 in Lebanon, N.H., shows traffic backing up on the morning of Wednesday, July 2, 2014. The highway was closed at exit 19 for several hours after downed wires caused a brush fire. One motorist died in a rollover acc<br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • New Hampshire Police Sgt. Ron Taylor takes measurements at the scene of a fatal car accident on I-89 north near exit 18 in Lebanon, N.H., on July 2, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

Lebanon — An unidentified woman died in a rollover accident on Interstate 89 on Wednesday when she lost control of her car while approaching standstill traffic that was backed up due to utility lines that had been brought down by a tractor trailer.

Around 9:45 a.m., police and firefighters responded to Exit 19 for lines that were hanging low across the travel lanes on both sides of the interstate at the Route 4 underpass after being clipped by an unidentified northbound truck.

Traffic came to a standstill in both directions as officers diverted cars off the interstate at Exit 19.

At about 10:45 a.m., a call came in about a rollover accident at Exit 18 and emergency crews left the scene of the downed wires and sped south.

Witnesses reported that a car had been driving northbound on the interstate when it swerved to the right, struck the guardrail and rolled over multiple times before coming to rest on its roof down the embankment.

Emergency responders found a gray sedan on its roof down the embankment near where the northbound on-ramp merges with the travel lane. The driver was extricated and transported to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where she was later pronounced dead. The woman’s identity was not released. She was the car’s lone occupant, police said.

Liz Cioffi and her daughter Melissa Pyenta were coming to a stop on the Exit 18 on-ramp as they came upon the traffic snarl when they saw the sedan “coming down very fast” and said they think the driver realized too late that the cars ahead of her had stopped.

The car was spinning as it hit the guardrail, Pyenta said, and once the car went over the embankment, numerous drivers got out of their cars and ran toward the accident.

“I was trying to call 911 but my hands were shaking so badly,” Pyenta said. “I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. It was tragic.”

At the scene, State Police Sgt. Ron Taylor said it appeared that the car struck the curb separating the interstate and the on-ramp before hitting the guardrail and traveling 50 to 75 feet down the embankment. He would not say whether speed was a factor.

“We just ask that drivers pay more attention to their surroundings,” Taylor said.

The Department of Transportation has an electronic sign on northbound I-89 between exits 17 and 18 that is used to communicate information such as construction delays and weather conditions to motorists, but Taylor said he didn’t know if the sign was displaying a warning about Wednesday morning’s traffic jam at the time of the accident.

Taylor said officers “do everything we can” to notify approaching motorists of standstill traffic.

“We do the best we can to notify people but not everyone pays attention,” he said. Taylor was speaking generally and was not commenting specifically on Wednesday’s fatal crash.

The accident is still under investigation, and state police have asked any additional witnesses to call Trooper Ryan St. Cyr at 603-271-3636.

Lebanon Fire Department Capt. Andy White said a witness told investigators that a logging-type truck snagged a utility line above I-89 at Exit 19 and continued without stopping.

A cable line whipped over the primary electrical lines, causing sparks that landed on the grass shoulder and ignited two small brush fires.

Liberty Utilities came to the scene first and determined that none of that company’s electrical lines were damaged and the fires could be extinguished safely. John Shore, a spokesman for Liberty Utilities, said the company did not experience power outages and said the lines remained intact.

But a thick, black communications cable was drooping just two or three yards above the pavement on I-89. Comcast reported that one of its cables had broken, and White said he thinks a second line that was effected was a fiber optic cable. Neither of the broken lines carried electrical power.

A spokeswoman from Comcast said there were a “very small number of customers” who lost service as a result of the downed lines and that service was restored by 2 p.m.

Utility crews raised the cables to the height of 16 feet above the pavement so that the interstate could be reopened.

Traffic on the interstate remained at a standstill until about 12:30 p.m. Drivers caught in the gridlock grew visibly frustrated, with numerous cars making U-turns on the emergency access roads. Several cars left the interstate via Exit 19 by traveling the wrong way down the on-ramps. Traffic returned to normal about 1 p.m.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

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Lebanon — Problems along Interstate 89 because of downed utility lines near Exit 19 and a fatal accident at Exit 18 were felt throughout Lebanon. Traffic was diverted along feeder roads such as Route 4, and several merchants in Miracle Mile Plaza lost Internet and phone service because a Comcast line was cut, and as a result could not process …