PITTSFIELD, Maine — A man who apparently fell asleep at the wheel crashed his car into a 123-year-old Victorian home early Tuesday, tearing out an antique bay window, two walls of the living room and most of the porch, police and the homeowner said.
Kenneth Curtis, 42, of Newport was driving a 2000 Kia when he failed to negotiate a curve and hit the house around 1:15 a.m., Pittsfield Police Chief Steven Emery said. Curtis missed a tree and road signs by mere feet as the car careened across a traffic island and crashed into the home at 254 North Main St. The dwelling is about 10 feet from the road.
“He came down the hill from the hospital and went right over the island and was almost airborne when he hit our house,” owner Peter Hartel said. “He had to be going 50 or 60” miles per hour.
Peter and Deanna Hartel were asleep when Curtis’ car hit their house, which they purchased in 2004.
“It sounded like an earthquake or explosion of some sort,” Peter Hartel said. “He hit the front corner, which includes the living room and the porch. He took out the whole corner of the house.”
Hartel said he rushed downstairs after the crash to find what he at first thought was smoke throughout the first floor. Then he realized it was a cloud of blown-in insulation from the ruined walls of his home. A blinking light from Curtis’ car added to what Hartel said was a “surreal” scene. On one side of the living room was a pile of badly smashed furniture. On the other side, the television and VCR stand was untouched. Sheer curtains over the bay window hung in strips but remained on their rods, underscoring the sheer force of the impact.
The untouched upper floor of the home loomed above the carnage with seemingly nothing to support it — which prompted firefighters to later wedge a beam under the corner. The wrecked Kia lay on its side on the home’s front porch.
“At first all I could think was that ‘this isn’t my home,’” said Hartel, who teaches Latin at Foxcroft Academy. His first thought was to shut off a gas line that fed a propane heater in the ruined part of the living room. That was when neighbors started to arrive to help, followed closely by police and rescue workers. By afternoon, workers had boarded up the damaged area with plywood.
Emery estimated that the accident caused many thousands of dollars in damage to both the home and the car. “You can look in one end and can see right through to the other,” he said. “[Curtis] certainly did a number on it.”
When Curtis hit the home, he severed power lines and smashed the electrical meter. A bare wire hanging on the car prevented others from helping, Hartel said.
“We had to wait for CMP to come turn off the electricity before he could touch the car,” Hartel said of the police officer who responded. During the wait, Curtis freed himself from the car, Hartel said.
The Hartels have insurance and plan to repair the damage. Because the electricity is disconnected, the couple must live elsewhere while the work is done. Deanna Hartel, who is the guidance director at Dexter Regional High School, was upbeat Tuesday even though her home lay in ruins.
“I survived breast cancer last year, so this is minor,” she said, dusting off some books she’s been reading in her living room in research for a doctoral thesis. “We can adapt very easily.”
Peter Hartel said the accident is just another chapter in the home’s long history.
“It’s a Victorian, built in 1887,” he said. “It’s been here for over 100 years and has withstood all kinds of weather and storms.”
Curtis, who suffered a cut to his forehead and was taken to Sebasticook Valley Hospital, was charged for having illegally attached license plates and no insurance, according to Emery. He was not arrested.
After the crash, the Hartels searched for hours for their 4-year-old black and white tuxedo cat, Bu Bu, who typically sleeps on the couch in the corner that was destroyed by Curtis’ car.
“We spent approximately two hours looking for our cat not knowing if she was under the rubble,” Peter Hartel said. “I found her on the deck next door. She was pretty shaken up,” but uninjured.
“All I was thinking about was Bu Bu,” said Deanna, who said the animal provided unending comfort during her bout with cancer. “She’s my baby.”