VSP: Trooper hit Bethel firetruck while traveling at ‘highway speeds’


Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-11-2024 6:30 PM

Modified: 03-11-2024 6:56 PM

The medical condition of a Vermont State Police trooper who sustained serious injuries when his police vehicle crashed into a firetruck on Interstate 89 in Royalton last week was unknown on Monday, but police have identified the officer as Cpl. Eric Vitali, a 19-year veteran of the department and specialist in underwater recovery operations.

Vitali, 41, was driving to a first-aid training session at state police headquarters in Waterbury when his SUV cruiser struck the back end of a Bethel Volunteer Fire Department pumper-tanker that was stationed in the passing lane as a “blocker truck” to provide protection to fire personnel dealing with a box truck that had rolled over in the highway median a short distance ahead, Vermont State Police said in a news release.

Police have not disclosed yet how fast Vitali was driving at the time of the crash but said that the force of the impact indicated the SUV cruiser was traveling at “highway speeds.” (The interstate speed limit is posted at 65 mph.)

No firefighters were immediately near the pumper-tanker or injured when the crash occurred; police said that Vitali had been wearing a seat belt.

Michael O’Neil, executive director of the Vermont Troopers’ Association, said on Monday that the Vitali family did not want to comment at this time on Cpl. Vitali’s medical condition and requested privacy. 

Bethel Fire Department had been called out to the scene just north of Exit 3/Bethel in response to an accident involving a People’s Linen Service box truck, which rolled over into the median after the driver swerved to avoid a slower-moving tractor trailer rig and lost control, police said. 

(A Vermont State trooper also responded to the rollover but had left the scene before the other trooper crashed into fire truck, according to Bethel fire chief David Aldrighetti).

The driver of the box truck, identified as Matthew Black, 33, of Keene, was uninjured and declined medical treatment, police said.

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Meanwhile, the trooper’s crash may have permanently disabled key pieces of Bethel’s firefighting equipment.

Aldrighetti said a representative from the insurance company will make an estimate of the damage to the truck but “we’re assuming it’s totaled.”

The truck, a combination pumper-tanker, was acquired in 2014 for $350,000 and had about 10,000 miles on it, he said.

“We had it custom built with four-wheel drive. It gets us everywhere in the back hills in the middle of winter. It had rear and side dumps on it for water. It was this beautiful truck that was going to last us 30 years,” Aldrighetti said on Monday.

He estimated that replacing the pumper-tanker with the same specifications would cost $750,000 today and take at least two years. “That’s how crazy stuff is now,” Aldrighetti said, noting that the insurance policy on the truck covers the “replacement value,” which should alleviate the cost burden for the town.

“It would throw the fire department and we’d have to borrow money and pay it back over 20 years and there goes our budget,” he said.

Bethel’s fire department still has separate pumper and tanker trucks it can use as backups, Aldrighetti said.

Vitali, a graduate of the Vermont Police Academy, joined the state police force in 2005. He was assigned as a trooper to the Rockingham Barrack, has served in the Westminster and Royalton field stations, and advanced to corporal in July 2020.

Vitali is a member of the Critical Action Team, a specially trained unit of troopers which responds to civil unrest, as well as the Underwater Recovery Team and the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program, comprised of troopers who have been certified by the Federal Aviation Administration to operate drones. He previously was a member of the Tactical Services Unit and is a firearms instructor.

Vitali also is active in the Vermont martial arts community, according to social media posts asking members to keep him in their thoughts.

VSP said the cause of the crash remains under investigation. Anyone w ith information is asked to contact the Royalton Barracks at 802-234-9933.

 Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.