Trooper airlifted after colliding with firetruck at Royalton crash scene

A Vermont State Police officer is airlifted from a crash scene on Interstate 89 North in Royalton, Vt., on Friday morning, March 8, 2024. The road was closed for a period of time. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

A Vermont State Police officer is airlifted from a crash scene on Interstate 89 North in Royalton, Vt., on Friday morning, March 8, 2024. The road was closed for a period of time. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — James M. Patterson

Vermont State Trooper Chayan Flores, left, stands by as Lt. Anthony French, right, and Lt. Rob McKenna, second from right, talk with another State Trooper after a crash on Interstate 89 northbound in Royalton, Vt., on Friday, March 8, 2024. A Vermont State Trooper was airlifted from the site to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center after crashing into a Bethel firetruck that was responding parked as a blocking vehicle to divert traffic into the right lane and away from another crash scene. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Vermont State Trooper Chayan Flores, left, stands by as Lt. Anthony French, right, and Lt. Rob McKenna, second from right, talk with another State Trooper after a crash on Interstate 89 northbound in Royalton, Vt., on Friday, March 8, 2024. A Vermont State Trooper was airlifted from the site to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center after crashing into a Bethel firetruck that was responding parked as a blocking vehicle to divert traffic into the right lane and away from another crash scene. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — James M. Patterson

Traffic backs up on Interstate 89 northbound in Royalton, Vt., as emergency workers wait for a Vermont State Trooper to be airlifted from the site of a crash on Friday, March 8, 2024. The State Trooper crashed into a Bethel firetruck that was parked acting as a blocking vehicle to divert traffic into the right lane away from the site of an earlier crash. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Traffic backs up on Interstate 89 northbound in Royalton, Vt., as emergency workers wait for a Vermont State Trooper to be airlifted from the site of a crash on Friday, March 8, 2024. The State Trooper crashed into a Bethel firetruck that was parked acting as a blocking vehicle to divert traffic into the right lane away from the site of an earlier crash. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

By JOHN LIPPMANand JAMES M. PATTERSON

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-08-2024 12:41 PM

Modified: 03-08-2024 8:13 PM


ROYALTON — A Vermont State trooper was airlifted with severe injuries to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center after the police SUV he was operating struck a firetruck that was responding to another crash on Interstate 89 near Exit 3 in Royalton on Friday morning.

The accident forced Bethel firefighters and rescue crews who were dealing with one relatively minor mishap to contend suddenly with a much graver incident that required rescuing the injured trooper from his mangled SUV after it struck the back end of the stationary firetruck.

At the accident scene Friday morning, Bethel Fire Department Chief David Aldrighetti said the trooper was “in tough shape.”

In a news release Friday evening, Vermont State Police identified Cpl. Eric Vitali, a 19-year veteran of the state police, as the injured trooper. Vitali, 41, is a member of the Critical Action Team, Underwater Recovery Team and the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program, and also serves as a firearms instructor. He was wearing his seat belt at the time of the crash.

Friday’s accident occurred at around 8:30 a.m. in the northbound lanes of I-89 a short distance beyond Exit 3.

The trooper’s vehicle had been approaching the area of a rollover crash when it struck a Bethel Fire Department truck that was parked in the northbound lanes of I-89 to block and direct traffic around emergency personnel, according to Aldrighetti.

The trooper was on his way to first-aid training at a VSP facility in Waterbury, according a Vermont State Police official. A pumper firetruck was stationed in the highway south of the box truck accident with flares directing oncoming northbound traffic into the right-side breakdown lane when the police SUV approaching from the south rear-ended it, Aldrighetti said.

There were no firefighters inside the pumper truck or next to it at the time of impact.

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“Everybody was up at the box truck that had rolled over and just heard this tremendous crash and looked back and saw that a trooper had run into the back of the firetruck,” said Aldrighetti, reporting what firefighters at the scene had told him.

“We were just waiting for the wrecker to come when the second accident happened,” he said.

Aldrighetti estimated that the two firetrucks — the pumper stationed as the “blocking” vehicle and the rescue vehicle at the site of the rollover — were about two-tenths of a mile apart. Both were “just north” of the Bethel exit.

After the trooper’s cruiser collided with the firetruck, multiple VSP vehicles descended on the scene.

Meanwhile, the operator of the rolled over box truck was uninjured and declined treatment.

“I was at work and on the way to the first accident and they called and said ‘don’t bother coming’ ” because the situation was under control with the relatively minor box truck rollover, Aldrighetti recounted.

“So I turn around and went back to work and no more got back to work when I heard White River Valley Ambulance get called on a secondary call and that time I head all the way through and I got there just as they started extrication of the trooper,” Aldrighetti said, explaining that “the minute it happened, one of the firefighters, even before he got to the (crashed police SUV) radioed for DHART.”

“DHART got there even before we got (the trooper) out of car,” said Aldrighetti, who estimated it took at least 20 minutes to extricate the trooper from his vehicle with “jaws of life” equipment.

Firefighters couldn’t speculate what caused the trooper to crash into the firetruck.

“We just assume something happened that made him drift into the other lane,” noting that stretch of I-89 where the accident happened is “wide open, straight-away clear for one and a half miles” and the weather was “crystal clear” and road “dry.”

Aldrighetti said firefighters noted the double-irony of the accident: how a firetruck stationed to block traffic and safeguard rescue workers on the scene became the object of an accident, but also how the presence of firefighters at the scene with life-saving rescue equipment was fortuitous in conducting the rescue.

“The firetruck was there as a blocker just for that reason,” Aldrighetti said. “But then the fact that the rescue equipment was there and firefighters were able to act in literally 30 seconds are factors that went a good way for  a really unfortunate situation.”

Vermont State Police said an investigation into the crash is in “its earliest stages” and it would “provide updates as soon as more information can be shared with the public.”

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.