Vt. woman facing charges in fatal wrong-way crash on Interstate 91


Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 11-24-2021 7:27 PM

WINDSOR — A 34-year-old Waitsfield, Vt., woman is facing charges after police say she drove her SUV the wrong way on Interstate 91 late Tuesday afternoon and killed an oncoming motorist who worked at a restaurant in West Lebanon, the latest in a series of deadly crashes on Twin State highways.

At least five people have died on Upper Valley roads in the past 10 days, and fatalities are up for the year across both Vermont and New Hampshire, according to state officials.

In Tuesday’s fatal crash in Windsor, Sarah Love, the Waitsfield resident, was reported to be “driving erratically” on Interstate 91 southbound near mile marker 51 around 4:30 p.m. when she allegedly turned around and drove her Nissan Rogue north in the southbound lanes, according to a Vermont State Police news release.

She then collided near mile marker 56 in Windsor with two other vehicles, and the second car, a 1991 Chevrolet Cavalier, sustained “heavy front end damage,” the release said. The driver of the Cavalier, Kathleen L. Spence, 59, of Rockingham, Vt., was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.

Friends said Spence was an outgoing person with a radiant smile who worked as a server at Denny’s in West Lebanon and also had a side business as a seamstress.

“Sad day learning of an amazing woman passing away way too soon,” John Quinlan, a former Denny’s manager who now works at the Weathervane Seafood restaurant, wrote on her Facebook page. “You were an amazing co-worker and friend that I always enjoyed seeing. Always so vibrant and welcoming. You will be missed.”

“She was very smart, very witty,” said fellow Rockingham resident Linda Furgat, who said Spence would do alterations for prom dresses and also worked on her daughter’s wedding dress, as well as Furgat’s dress, recently. “You couldn’t ask for a nicer person.”

The other motorist, Rosemarie Reynolds, of Greenfield, Mass., suffered minor injuries. Her Fiat 500 was totaled, the release said.

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State Police said Love was “impaired by alcohol” and was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence. She was taken to Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center for medical evaluation of a head injury, the release said.

Love is facing charges of gross negligent operation with death resulting and DUI with death resulting, the release said, and is due in Vermont Superior Court in White River Junction on Dec. 7.

The southbound lanes were closed for a couple of hours at the Hartland exit as first responders and the Medical Examiner’s Office investigated. Anyone who witnessed the crash in Windsor was asked to contact Trooper Austin Soule or Trooper Eric Acevedo of the Westminster barracks at 802-722-4600.

The fatal crash followed the death of a 20-year-old South Hadley, Mass., man who was killed early Saturday evening after his vehicle left Interstate 89 and struck some trees in Hartford. Vermont State Police said Louis Blair had been in the Burlington area working for his family’s small business and was on his way home.

Two women died following a single-car accident on Route 12A in Charlestown last Thursday, according to the Keene Sentinel. Ginger King, 73, of Claremont, who was driving, was pronounced dead at the scene after her SUV left the road and struck a tree, police said.

Her passenger, Sally Michaud, 70, of Unity, later died at a hospital.

And Thomas Fennell, a Vermont Law School student from the Pittsburgh area, was killed on Nov. 16 when his Jeep was hit by an Amtrak train at a rail crossing in South Royalton.

Road deaths in both states have increased over 2020, when fewer motorists were on the road because of the COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns. Through Tuesday, 67 people had died this year on Vermont roads, up from 59 last year and topping even the 2017 mark of 66 deaths at that point, according to statistics from the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

In New Hampshire, 105 people had died on Granite State roads through Monday, an 8.25% increase over the 97 killed in the same period in 2020.

Windsor police on Wednesday posted a “Don’t Drive Like a Turkey” Facebook warning to motorists, noting that roads will be more crowded because of Thanksgiving travel and that recent crashes “puts us on track to be one of the deadliest years in recent history.”

Police planned enhanced enforcement patrols through the holiday season. “Drive safe, sober, and wear a seatbelt — it may just save your life,” the Windsor police post said.

Mandy White, a data manager who tracks crash statistics for VTrans, said on Wednesday that cases of impaired driving, aggressive driving and speeding, and “unbelted” driving are all concerns.

“We have a lot of fatalities that weren’t wearing a seat belt,” she said.

She said some drivers may have gotten used to emptier roads and limited enforcement last year during pandemic shutdowns, but that police patrols, and traffic, have both increased.

“One of the things people felt was this lack of enforcement on the roads. That’s not the case anymore,” White said. “I think driver behavior changed when there were less cars on the road, and reining that back in is an issue for drivers.”

In New Hampshire, which has averaged almost 118 road deaths a year in the past five years, officials are focusing on such issues as impaired driving and distracted driving as more motorists return to the road, according to Emily McNair, the spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Office of Highway Safety.

”There’s definitely more travel. People are getting out more and can get out and see their family, and there is a concern with more vehicles on the road,” McNair said.

John Gregg can be reached at 603-727-3217 or jgregg@vnews.com.