Crashes in wintery conditions all too common

Monday December 17, 2012


Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Over the weekend, state police said 69-year-old Patricia Wilder was driving too fast for conditions when her Ford Explorer crossed over the median of Interstate 91, colliding with a rock ledge and overturning. The Jamaica resident was subsequently transported to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital where her condition was not immediately known.

At nearly the same instant Sunday, shortly after noon, Arlington resident David Matteson, 47, was traveling westward on Route 313 near Tory Lane when his Ford Ranger left the roadway and struck a tree. Matteson told authorities his vehicle experienced a mechanical failure, although police subsequently arrested him for driving under the influence of alcohol.

At approximately 6:27 a.m. that morning, police responded to a crash on Route 7 in Sunderland after Alexandra Gomez-Reed, of North Pownal, advised she fell asleep at the wheel and drifted off the road. Police said the 23 year old was not injured when her truck struck the guardrail, although they reported extensive damage to the vehicle.

Five hours later south on Route 7 in Pownal, Sandra Lee Bisson, 69, was transported to Southwestern Vermont Medical Center for evaluation after she slid off the road, totaling her vehicle. Authorities reported wet or snowy road conditions at the time of all four incidents, as flurries fell over the weekend; each illustrating wintertime accidents that could have been avoided. A National Weather Service winter weather advisory was in effect overnight into the morning Monday.

Police plea to follow basic safety tips

"Got your snow tires on?" asked Betsy Ross, a state police public information officer for the Vermont Governor's Highway Safety Program. With the changing seasons, Ross said the highway safety program issued press releases and contracted with partners for public educational events, but all the tips for safe winter driving seem applicable pretty much anytime.

"Buckle up, you have to slow down. ... Pay attention and focus on the road," said Ross.

Bennington Police Lt. Lloyd Dean said local authorities annually witnessed a spike in crashes during the first winter storm. On the department's Facebook page, tips from the National Safety Council include winterizing your car ahead of time, decreasing speed and leaving three-times as much space between vehicles, and knowing how to react when your vehicle begins to skid.

When conditions get too poor -- just stay home.

To date, there have been 74 fatalities on Vermont roadways this year. That number compares to 54 last year, 71 in 2010, 73 apiece in 2009 and 2008, and 66 in 2007 according to numbers from the highway safety program. While Ross said her department did not break those numbers down to specify factors like road conditions, the risks of driving are greater in winter given cold temperatures and shorter daylight hours in addition to other factors like alcohol, speed, or inattention.

Last month, New York State Police reported a fatal accident in Hoosick, N.Y., when a 26-year-old woman lost control of her vehicle on a frost-covered section of pavement. Speed was cited as a factor.

Although temperatures that afternoon were above freezing, ice can still form on roadways because of various atmospheric conditions. Authorities said Joe-De Wilbur, of Greenwich, N.Y., was found deceased upon the arrival of first responders, although her two small children, ages 7 and 5, sustained only minor injury. Wilbur's obituary following the Nov. 19 crash indicated she was "expecting the joy of a third."

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