Linda Eliason

Linda Eliason in a photo with one of her grandchildren. Eliason suffered a cardiac event that led to her death in her driveway in January in North Rupert.

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NORTH RUPERT — Sykes Hollow Road in North Rupert winds past old farmhouses, ancient maples, and rolling horse pastures for less than half a mile. There are only a handful of homes along the sweeping gravel road before it dead-ends at a steep hillside, then turns onto a private road. The houses are all separated by acreage on either side, allowing residents the privacy and quiet atmosphere rural Vermonters desire.

Neighbors on Sykes Hollow Road like their space, and even though they look out for one another, they keep respectful of that privacy. That, along with a powerful mid-winter blizzard and plummeting temperatures, created a perfect storm, setting the course for a tragedy no one can believe happened.

Early Saturday morning, during the tail end of one of this winter’s most powerful snowstorms, Vermont State Police responded to 513 Sykes Hollow Road for a report of a woman found dead in the snow. She was spotted a little after 6 a.m. by a man who was attempting to plow her driveway. When he left the truck’s cab to shovel near the pathway, he spotted the elderly woman’s dog sitting nearby. When he got closer, he found her frozen under the snow.

Linda Eliason, 76, was declared dead at the scene. Her frozen body was transported to the Vermont Medical Examiner’s office for an official autopsy and cause of death determination soon after. Vermont State Police issued a press release Tuesday after an initial investigation found she appeared to have died from exposure to the elements following a fall. Police reported that the death was considered accidental and was not considered suspicious.

Eliason lived alone with her dog and cat in the white cape home she had owned for the last 25 years. The Banner spoke with one of her neighbors to find out who she was and what might have happened that tragic night.

“I used to plow for her,” said Scott Palmer, one of Eliason’s neighbors. “I can see her driveway right from here. She was just a really nice lady. She was independent and a little stubborn like most Vermonters, wanting her privacy, but very nice. I can’t believe this happened.”

Palmer, like Eliason, has lived on Sykes Hollow Road for over two decades. He knew her as a neighbor and friend for most of that time.

“A lot of these houses have changed over the years. Myself, Linda, and Charlie, at the end, are the longest residents on this road. It’s really small. We know everybody. Yeah. You know, her car goes by, and it’s like, oh, there goes Linda.”

Palmer said everyone on the road tends to mind their own business, but they also keep an eye out for neighbors.

“We don’t ignore each other. If she had called for help, I would have been there in two seconds. I mean, she lived alone. I’ve been thinking about that since Saturday morning.”

Palmer confirmed Eliason has a couple of daughters, one living in the Middlebury area. A knock on Eliason’s door was answered by a middle-aged woman who declined to talk about what happened.

“She wasn’t having mental issues,” Palmer says. “She was just having a hard time getting around lately. She broke her hip or something and was using a cane. She had some mobility issues.

“I don’t know if she fell and couldn’t get up or if she hit her head and was knocked out and froze. I don’t have any of those details. I know she was found on the driveway next to her car, maybe 20 feet away from her front door. That night, it was the night that we got that five inches. She could have been lying there, and it snowed five inches. The guy who was plowing her driveway found her covered in snow.”

Palmer remembers driving past Eliason’s house before dawn that morning.

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“I can’t stop thinking that I had driven by there at five in the morning. I noticed that it wasn’t plowed, but it’s pitch black then. I couldn’t know.”

Palmer has fond memories of his neighbor. He would see Eliason gardening in the nice weather. He’d always stop and say hello.

“She was a friend of mine. We’re all friends on this road right now. The neighbors look out for each other around here. We care.”

Palmer takes issue with some of the coverage of the tragedy.

“I saw the news report on television. They’re like, ‘that just shows you got to look out for your neighbors.’ We do that, you know. We always have. That hurt me a little, like the poor lady was left alone, and nobody cared about her. That wasn’t the case. It was really just the timing. It happened in the middle of the night. She must have fallen. It was dark. Maybe she was outside with the dog. I guess no one will ever know.”

Palmer thinks about what might have happened if she’d fallen in the daylight, or maybe if she was closer to the road, or if the storm wasn’t as bad as it was.

“You know, if it happened in the daytime, somebody would have seen it. It was just miserable timing. It was such a cold night, a snowstorm. This road, as soon as everybody gets home, there’s not a car passing. It’s a dead end, with no huge apartment houses where there are random people coming in for different reasons. There’s none of that where we all live. It was the perfect storm.”

According to Palmer, Eliason’s dog was found sitting alongside her body. A member of the family is caring for the dog and cat. Palmer also confirmed that Eliason was a grandmother who had raised two of them inside the home until they graduated.

“That was a long time ago. I think it was a boy and a girl or a girl. They lived with her until probably 10 years ago, until they both finished high school.”

When asked what he remembers most about Eliason, Palmer doesn’t hesitate.

“She was just a great neighbor,” he says. “This is a great neighborhood. We all care about each other. But at the same time, we mind our own business, you know, and it’s one of those times where, like, I wish I hadn’t been minding my own business, but you never know. There were all those variables where if, like, she was checking your mail or something and it happened, we all would have seen. People would have noticed. It was just pitch black, the middle of a cold night in a snowstorm.”

Palmer turns and looks out toward the old white house where his long-time neighbor died out in the cold.

“We all we all loved her and stuff,” Palmer said. “I mean, if the lights were on for a couple of days, I would probably be like, what’s going on? I was just this tragic circumstance. It was just a bad night, a terrible night.”

As of press time, no official cause of death or timeline of what might have happened has been released. A death certificate states the cause of death as “pending.”


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