Police Identify Victim in I-89 Rollover
Lebanon — Police have identified the driver in Wednesday’s fatal Interstate 89 crash that occurred while emergency workers were dealing with downed communications lines as a 24-year-old woman from Colchester, Vt. Their attempts to identify who was driving the vehicle that brought down the lines, however, have proven unsuccessful.
Heidi Rabidoux was driving a sedan on I-89 northbound just past Exit 18 when she came upon traffic at a standstill and swerved her car to the right, causing her vehicle to flip multiple times, go over a guardrail and come to rest upside down about 50 to 75 feet down a grassy embankment.
Rabidoux was transported to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead. Her family could not be reached for comment.
Traffic was backed up prior to Rabidoux’s crash due to fiber optic cable lines that were snagged by what police described as a northbound tractor-trailer. One of the lines snapped, fell to the ground and touched off a brush fire along the interstate, while another was left hanging low above the interstate, according to the New Hampshire State Police. Troopers are still looking for the driver and vehicle responsible for the incident, Sgt. Ron Taylor said.
State police have described the vehicle that was traveling northbound as a tractor- trailer hauling a large piece of equipment. But officials from the Lebanon Fire Department have said they have received conflicting reports from witnesses, including that it was a logging-type vehicle with a hook and saw blade sticking out from the top.
The truck snagged the wires around 9:45 a.m. Chris O’Keeffe, a Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles inspector who was running the weigh station along I-89 north near the Sharon exit, received a call later in the day from Vermont State Police asking him to watch out for a logging truck. But O’Keeffe said he never saw a vehicle that fit that description.
In New Hampshire, the maximum height of a vehicle is 13 feet, 6 inches unless it has received a special permit, and utility wires are required to be 18 feet or higher. While state police and Lebanon fire and police officials say they do not think the wires were too low, the Department of Transportation can’t know for sure because it’s up to utility companies to monitor their wires’ height.
“We have no reason to believe that those wires were hung inappropriately,” Taylor, the state police sergeant, said. “Everything we have now leads us to believe that they were at the appropriate height.”
Lebanon Police Deputy Chief Phil Roberts said his department had not received any complaints about the height of the wires before Wednesday’s accident.
Lebanon Fire Chief Chris Christopoulos said he “suspects” the wires met the minimum-height requirements.
“There’s no way to know for sure, but I don’t believe based on the quantity of traffic every day” that they were too low, Christopoulos said. “In my mind it would have happened sooner if they were lower. ...We have an enormous amount of truck traffic down the interstate without any problem.”
It is the utility companies’ responsibility to make sure the wires are in compliance with the 18-foot requirement established by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, said Bill Boynton, the department’s public information officer .
“There is no active process to measure or monitor crossings in the department, but we do alert them to concerns on occasion if they are discovered,” Boynton wrote in an email.
Wednesday afternoon, Christopoulos was given guidance by the DOT that the utility companies could temporarily hang the wires at a height of 16 feet to allow the interstate to reopen. Comcast strung one of its cables underneath the interstate bridge above Route 4 for the time being until the wire can be permanently restrung, Christopoulos said.
The accident is still under investigation, and state police are asking anyone who witnessed the fatal crash to call Trooper Ryan St. Cyr at 603-271-3636.
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3223.