Despite DOT efforts, crashes persist at Palmyra’s Ell Hill

Posted Sept. 26, 2008, at 10:10 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:03 a.m.

PALMYRA, Maine — The second serious accident in less than a week at the infamous Ell Hill intersection of Routes 2 and 152 occurred Friday morning.

Resident Julie Henderson is in critical condition after pulling out of her driveway into the path of a tractor-trailer. Henderson lives just east of Ell Hill.

The intersection — which officials call one of the most dangerous in the state — was revamped this summer as part of a state safety project.

Ell Hill was the scene of 10 documented personal injury accidents between 2003 and 2005, and, anecdotally, firefighters recall handling dozens more in the three years since statistics were available.

Two of those were fatal accidents. In just one week in 2002, one person was killed and seven hospitalized from crashes at Ell Hill, and last year, LifeFlight Air Ambulance landed at the intersection four times to transport seriously injured victims.

In an effort to make the area safer, the Maine Department of Transportation spent just under $200,000 redesigning islands, adding new flashing lights and signs and painting the intersection with bright, noticeable colors. Reconstruction took most of the summer.

“It didn’t work,” was the comment this week by rescue workers and nearby store owners who have witnessed the frequency and severity of the accidents.

Terry Vanadestine, who owns T&K Market at the location, said he knew of the intersection’s dangerous reputation and had been “holding my breath” all summer. Nearly every one of the accidents at Ell Hill has happened because one of the parties involved either drives through a stop sign on Route 152 or stops and then continues into the path of a vehicle traveling on Route 2.

Vanadestine said last Friday he watched two cars go through the stop sign coming out of Hartland without stopping just before the afternoon accident. “It happens all the time. Every day. The only thing that is going to work here is a stop light. We told the DOT guys that at the public hearings,” he said.

DOT Traffic Engineer James Mansir said Friday from his Augusta office that he was dumbfounded that accidents continue to occur.

“I am really, really surprised,” Mansir said. “We put up flashing beacons, islands, striping. There should be enough visual clues for people.” He said that one of the key problems was that when approaching Route 2 from Hartland, the road slopes in a way that Route 2 is not visible. He said that is why raised islands were constructed and painted an eye-aching yellow. “I just don’t understand why the accidents are still happening,” he said.

When public hearings were held on the intersection last winter, many in Palmyra told Mansir that the area needed a traffic signal.

“That’s all that will work here,” Vanadestine said, watching Pittsfield firefighters clean up broken glass in the street from last week’s accident. “You need to stop them from speeding down Route 2.”

Mansir said there are seven criteria for installing traffic lights and that Palmyra’s intersection does not meet them. “There isn’t enough traffic there for one thing,” he said. But Mansir admitted that a traffic light would help. The bottom line, however, is driver awareness, he said.

“We can warn motorists with everything we have, but they still have to hit the brakes themselves,” he said.

Still, Mansir said he will be conferring with the planning and safety divisions at DOT for a possible review of the intersection.

About 5:15 Friday morning, a serious accident happened just down from Ell Hill between the intersection and the Tom Merry Bridge on Route 2.

Julie Henderson, 42, of Palmyra, reportedly pulled out of her driveway directly into the path of an oncoming unloaded pulp truck, according to Maine State Trooper Aaron Turcotte.

Turcotte said the truck, operated by Christopher Elwell, 37, of Benedicta, was eastbound and struck Henderson’s 2002 Dodge Stratus directly on the driver’s side, pushing it off the road.

“He did the best he could to get out of the way, but there wasn’t much he could do,” Turcotte said. “She apparently did not see him coming.”

Henderson was taken to Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield and then transferred to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, where she was in “very critical condition,” Turcotte said.

Turcotte reconstructed the accident and said neither speed nor alcohol was a factor. He said LifeFlight Air Ambulance was unable to go to the scene because of foggy weather conditions.

Last Friday afternoon, Sept. 19, the driver of a 2004 Chevrolet pickup truck, Denny MacPheters, 55, of Detroit, failed to yield to a 1996 Oldsmobile Cutlass driven by Tory Mooar, 26, of New Sharon who was traveling west on Route 2, according to police.

MacPheters was heading north on Route 152, coming from Pittsfield.

Mooar’s small sedan hit the side of MacPheter’s much larger truck and caused it to flip on its roof and spin away. Both vehicles had extensive damage.

“I was so scared to come around and see who was in the car,” MacPheters said. “I was praying it wasn’t children.”

Both men accepted medical care from a Sebasticook Valley Hospital Ambulance crew.

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