BANGOR, Maine — A Tuesday evening accident on Interstate 95 shut down the highway and snarled traffic for hours near the Bangor Mall, an area already swollen with last-minute Christmas shoppers.
Maine State Police Trooper Chris Hashey said speed and alcohol were factors in the accident that occurred just south of Exit 186 at Stillwater Avenue, resulting in the closure of the Hogan Road and Stillwater Avenue exits. The southbound lanes of the interstate also had to be shut down between the mall and Broadway while crews worked to clear the accident scene.
No serious injuries were reported, but as traffic was funneled from the interstate to Hogan Road and Stillwater Avenue, it caused massive jams around the mall and in residential areas on the east side of town.
“It’s just a big parking lot there on Stillwater Avenue,” Bangor police Lt. Tom Reagan said at about 9:15 p.m. “Couldn’t have picked a worse exit on the interstate for this. The normally heavy [holiday] traffic was compounded by the southbound traffic.”
One of the problem spots, Reagan said, was the intersection of Stillwater Avenue and the Stillwater exit, where the Bangor Parkade shopping center with a Kohl’s and Old Navy is located. As shoppers drove in and out of the center, southbound traffic on Stillwater Avenue had to merge from two lanes into one, causing more headaches. Traffic also spilled onto residential streets along Stillwater Avenue, Reagan added.
Reagan’s own supper didn’t fare well since his wife was caught in the traffic for about an hour and a half while picking up a pizza.
“I can tell you it was quite cold when she got back,” he said.
The accident on the interstate, which happened at about 5:20 p.m., resulted in the arrest of Christopher Horwood, 23, of Levant, according to Trooper Hashey.
Hashey said Horwood was driving a 1996 Ford Mustang at a high speed and failed to yield to oncoming traffic when he attempted to get on the interstate from the southbound ramp off Stillwater. The trooper said the car went into a spin as it entered the highway and the Mustang ended up facing north when it was struck head-on by a tractor-trailer driven by Joseph Rider, 27, of St. Louis.
Rider’s truck, which was loaded with firewood, skidded off the road and into the median, where it remained Tuesday night. Hashey said at about 11:15 p.m. that the highway likely would be shut down at least two more hours while workers tried to free the truck, which was in a soft area of ground.
With the mall stores closed by that hour, however, the traffic had cleared up significantly, he said.
Horwood’s blood alcohol level measured 0.18, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 for operating a motor vehicle in Maine, Hashey said. Horwood was charged with operating under the influence, arrested and taken to Penobscot County Jail in Bangor.
Hashey said he did not know how fast Horwood was traveling, but that it was a high speed. He said the road was a little wet, but that was not likely a major factor. The air bags in Horwood’s car went off, which Hashey said likely saved the driver.
While the traffic likely annoyed a lot of people, one mall worker said it might have had an unintended positive impact on retailers at the mall.
The worker, who didn’t want to be identified, said his store was packed with customers and there were long lines at the cash registers, even at about 9 p.m. The store was expecting a busy evening, he said, but he wondered whether drivers sick of waiting in traffic had decided to shop while waiting for things to calm down outside.