Another Route 4 Tragedy: Bridgewater Woman, 84, Is Fourth to Die on Road Since March
Family members talk with a Cabot Funeral Home employee at the scene of an accident that killed Norma Sawyer, of Bridgewater, in Woodstock yesterday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Workers from Sabil and Sons towing prepare to remove a truck from the bank of the Ottauqhechee River along on Route 4 in Woodstock yesterday after the truck was involved in a fatal accident earlier in the morning. The driver of the truck was treated at DHMC with minor injuries. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Norma Sawyer, 84, was killed when the Dodge sedan she was driving collided with the delivery truck. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Woodstock — A Bridgewater woman died yesterday morning after the sedan she was driving collided with a box truck on Route 4. It was the third fatal accident on that road in Woodstock and Hartford this year.
Norma Sawyer, 84, was pronounced dead at the scene . Her death came one day after the fire chiefs of Woodstock and Hartford called on the state to install centerline rumble strips on Route 4 in an effort to prevent accidents. Sawyer is the fourth driver to die on the road since the beginning of March.
Woodstock Police Chief Robbie Blish said preliminary results of an ongoing investigation yesterday showed that the collision occurred when one of the vehicles crossed the centerline, but it was unclear which vehicle may have drifted from its lane. Blish said it appeared that the box truck was headed west and a silver Dodge Stratus driven by Sawyer was headed east.
A passenger in Sawyer’s car, Laura Robinson, 75, of Bridgewater, was injured in the crash and transported to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Hospital officials said she was in satisfactory condition yesterday afternoon. Timothy Farewell, 46, of Enfield Center, the driver of the box truck owned by Carroll Tire Co. of Lebanon, was transported to DHMC with minor injuries and released.
Sawyer appeared to have died on impact, according to Woodstock police. Sawyer’s family members at the scene declined to comment. Attempts to reach additional family members yesterday were unsuccessful.
Vicky Young, who grew up in Bridgewater with Sawyer’s five children, said she believed Sawyer and Robinson were on their way to Lebanon yesterday morning when the crash occurred.
“She was just very nice, fun-loving, and always smiling and always friendly, cheerful,” Young said.
Robinson has served as the Bridgewater correspondent for the Vermont Standard newspaper for many years, said the publisher, Phillip Camp, who called the two women “the closest friends.” Often when the Standard held a company event for employees, for example, Robinson would bring Sawyer.
“(Sawyer) was a dear friend to her,” Camp said.
The crash took place around 6 a.m. in West Woodstock, about a quarter-mile west of Lincoln Bridge where the road curves . Both vehicles came to rest on the embankment of the Ottauquechee River. Traffic was touch-and-go for much of the morning and completely stopped between 10 to 11 a.m. before one lane was reopened.
Blish said it was not yet known whether any of the occupants were wearing seatbelts or whether yesterday morning’s patchy fog contributed to the crash.
Emergency personnel from Woodstock responded to the scene, as well as State Police, Department of Motor Vehicles Enforcement and a state medical examiner.
A person who answered the phone at the Lebanon offices of Carroll Tire deferred comment to the company’s national office. The company did not respond to a request for comment.
Woodstock Fire Chief L.D. Sutherland said yesterday’s tragedy only bolstered his feeling that the state should install centerline rumble strips on at least some sections of Route 4, which as a lengthy history of fatal accidents.
Most recently, 40-year-old Hartland resident Patience Hutt died last week when her Subaru collided with an empty horse trailer on a curve at the Hartford-Hartland line. The cause of the accident remains under investigation.
In early March, a three-car collision killed 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.
“I’m hoping the right people will talk to the right people and we’ll get some results here,” Sutherland said. “I want to get some results real soon, I don’t want this to drag out and spend $20,000 on a study.
“Everybody agrees that it’s not going to be a 100 percent cure-all, but it’s a step in the right direction, and I hope it gets the right people’s attention to do something.”
Ken Robie, the program manager for the Highway Safety & Design Section at VTrans, told the Valley News on Wednesday that one of the primary factors for determining whether a road would make a good candidate for rumble strips is its accident history. Rumble strips are usually installed as part of a greater road project, such as paving, but could be prioritized for other reasons like “high sensitivity and extreme need.”
A three-and-a-half mile section of Route 4 in Hartford is scheduled to be leveled next year, he said, and is due for a full paving within five years. The agency is in the preliminary stages of planning a total rebuild of the road, which Robie said could take about a decade.
At the scene yesterday, Woodstock Assistant Fire Chief David Roy reflected on the recent string of tragedies: “Too many of these on Route 4,” he said. “It’s too much.”
A short time later, around 10 a.m., responders raised a blue tarp to block view of the car as they removed Sawyer’s body from the scene. A group of seven women and a man, who identified himself as Sawyer’s son-in-law, stood a short distance away, many cupping their faces in their hands as the hearse drove by moments later.
The emotional toll of such a persistent stream of accidents is a burden on the fire department, Sutherland said.
“My guys just barely got back in here and you know, it’s stressful. It’s really tough,” he said. “Not to say that we’re not what we’re trained to do, but I worry about them, you know. Everybody seems to be OK.”
In an interview Wednesday, Hartford Fire Chief Stephen Locke expressed similar sentiments.
“While we are trained to deal with this stuff, dealing with a tragic death, a sudden death, is never easy for anyone, and especially in the cases we’ve seen recently, it just seems there’s so many of them,” he said.
Locke said many of the emergency responders knew Hutt, the Hartland woman who died in a crash last week; some of the responders’ children attend school with Hutt’s children.
Young, the woman who grew up knowing the Sawyer children, also knew Hutt. She said residents in the area are feeling the effect of the tragedies, as well.
“It just makes us sick. We’ve been talking about the accidents on Route 4 after last week with Patience, and we were all saying, you feel like you’re taking your life into your hands when you’re on Route 4,” she said. “These accidents make you nervous driving, and you’re watching for people coming across the line or whatever, and it’s just very sad and very awful that these are happening.”
Anyone with information regarding yesterday’s crash should call Woodstock officer Mark Donka at 802-457-1420.
Maggie Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3220.
This article has been amended for clarification. The following clarification appeared in the Saturday, May 18 edition of the Valley News.
David Roy is the assistant fire chief in Woodstock. A story in yesterday's Valley News about a Route 4 crash that killed a Bridgewater woman omitted Roy's name as he said, "Too many of these on Route 4. It's too much."