February 19, 2018
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Changing weather wreaks havoc on motorists

BANGOR, Maine — Precipitation and changing temperatures caused problems for hundreds of motorists in central, eastern and northern Maine on Friday.

Drivers traveling east and west on the Veterans Memorial Bridge got an urgent reminder early Friday night that bridges really do freeze before the rest of the road does.

Maine State Police troopers spent about 90 minutes between about 4:30 and 6 p.m. dealing with accidents on the icy bridge as motorists lost control of their vehicles, according to Trooper Christopher Hashey.

“The bridge froze over quicker than the rest of the highway and people started losing control and spinning around,” he said late Friday.

At least one accident was a multicar pileup because drivers were unable to stop on the slick bridge surface, he said. No one was taken to the hospital, he said.

“The [Maine Department of Transportation] came down and spread some salt and that cured the problem,” Hashey said.

A Bangor woman driving a pickup truck north on Interstate 95 in Hampden also experienced the effect that falling temperatures can have on wet pavement when late Friday afternoon she hit a slick spot. Kelsey Devine’s vehicle bounced off a guardrail and embedded her truck under a tanker truck driven by Steven Pennington of Georgia.

Pennington dragged Devine and her truck about a quarter of a mile before he was able to bring the tanker to a stop, according to Maine State Police Trooper Michael Johnston. Devine suffered minor cuts and scrapes in the accident.

The tanker was loaded with paper mill waste from Macon, Ga. Information about where it was headed was unavailable late Friday.

Police patrolling Interstate 95 and around the Bangor Mall received dozens of accident reports Friday morning and dozens more into the afternoon as people traveling early to catch Black Friday shopping deals ran into snow that lightly blanketed the area and made roads slick.

“We’ve had probably 12 to 14 accidents spaced out since 7:30 this morning,” Maine State Police dispatcher Randy Mosley, who works at the Orono barracks, said at 9:30 a.m. “There [were] no serious injuries or anything like that. It doesn’t look like a lot of accumulation, but it’s making it slick.”

By 1:40 p.m. that number had doubled.

“There is a total of 33 for our coverage area,” Mosley said. “None were serious.”

Maine State Police Troop E covers Penobscot and Piscataquis counties and Interstate 95 between Newport and Sherman.

The Penobscot Regional Communications Center also had dispatched deputies and local police to around 15 minor crashes by 9:45 a.m., one being a rollover with no injury.

Chip Briggs, Penobscot Regional Communications Center supervisor, said Friday afternoon that most of the accidents occurred in the southern or western portions of Penobscot County and none were serious.

“There were a couple with injuries,” he said, “but none that were life-threatening.”

In Morrill, Jacob Mehuren, 20, was driving home Friday afternoon when he said he swerved to avoid a car, caught his tires in the slush off Poland Woods Road and ended up skidding into an icy pond.

The 2002 Volkswagon Jetta flipped and quickly began sinking into what neighbors call “Uncle Floyd’s Pond,” but Mehuren was able to crawl out a broken window and back onto the shore. The soaked and shivering Brooks man then went for help but said that he must have walked a half mile before he found anyone home.

Rescue workers estimate the accident happened a little after 2:30 p.m. Tracks etched into the snow and mud ran from the road into the pond.

“I heard the ice crack and the car just started filling up. I just pushed myself off the console and out the window,” Mehuren said afterwards. “I’m shaken up, mostly.”

Deputy Gerry Lincoln of the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office said that Mehuren suffered a little hypothermia and had been checked out by a Belfast Ambulance squad.

Neighbors watched as crews from the Morrill Volunteer Fire Department worked to attach a cable to the car so that a truck from Alan’s Towing of Belfast could haul it out.

“I think he’s lucky, real lucky,” said John Dodge, who lives down the road.

“Blessed,” said another neighbor who declined to give her name.

Fire Chief Pat Scribner carefully crawled over a ladder from shore to the vehicle, the icy black water not far below him.

“It’s just a relief to know he’s all right,” said Darren Mehuren of Brooks, Jacob Mehuren’s father.

In Washington and Hancock counties, a light dusting of morning snow was followed by sleet and then rain, making driving a bit dangerous.

As darkness fell, the rainy roads became iced over and the number of crashes increased. Two people were injured in an accident in Milbridge and a tractor-trailer hauling lobsters rolled over in Harrington on Kennedy Highway. The driver was uninjured but trapped inside the cab and had to be extricated.

Washington County Regional Communications Center reported at least three accidents on Route 9, none with injuries.

Between 8 a.m. and noon, more than 25 accidents were reported to state, county and local police but no one was injured in any of the crashes.

The Hancock County Regional Communications Center reported eight accidents, Washington County Regional Communications Center reported nine, Bar Harbor had three crashes, Ellsworth had several, and the Troop J sector of the Maine State Police reported more than five fender-benders.

In one of the crashes, a vehicle carrying three people crashed through a guardrail and traveled down an embankment into a ravine and over a small brook on Route 9 in Wesley. The small silver sedan came to rest on the opposite side of the stream and was demolished.

The driver and two passengers began walking, according to Washington County Deputy Sgt. Thomas Chambers, and he found them about a mile from the crash scene.

Chambers arrested the operator, Joshua Wood, 28, of East Machias, on a charge of falsifying physical evidence after Wood reportedly attempted to hide drug paraphernalia from the deputy. Chambers said Wood was in possession of what is called a boot kit, which consists of spoons and needles.

A passenger, Lewis Fitzsimmons, 39, also of the East Machias area, was arrested on a warrant for unpaid fines.

Fitzsimmons and the second passenger refused medical treatment for minor injuries from the crash. Warden Jim Martin helped Chambers take one of the men to Washington County Jail.

Chambers said Wood told him that slippery road conditions caused the crash.

“It was pretty much nonstop out there all morning,” Chambers said. “One family was really lucky. About a half mile from Route 9 on Route 192 their vehicle was pulled out of control by slush and the rear driver’s-side door struck a tree. There were two young children in safety seats in the back and two adults in the front. They were all uninjured because they were properly belted.”

Bangor police Lt. Steve Hunt said Tuesday afternoon that Bangor officers received reports of four minor accidents attributed to the weather.

The majority of the minor crashes occurred because of “people driving too fast and people driving four-wheel-drive vehicles not in four-wheel drive,” Mosley said.

Snow-covered roads are what four-wheel-drive vehicles are made for, he said. His advice to anyone heading out onto snow-covered roads is to slow down and increase the distance between vehicles.

The snow turned to rain in the Bangor area at around noon.

In Aroostook County, the weather did not turn out to be as severe as predicted. While many areas received snow, sleet or a mixture of both, police reported few accidents. All of them were minor.

In Houlton, it began snowing just after noon and roads grew slick quickly. The Houlton Police Department dealt with a few fender-benders, but no serious crashes.

In Caribou, police Sgt. Paul Vincent said that the department also had dealt with some minor fender-benders and cars off the road by 4 p.m. No one involved required medical assistance.

There were no accidents reported in Presque Isle, Fort Kent or Madawaska.

Skies are expected to begin clearing today as temperatures along the coast and in most parts of the state climb above freezing and into the upper 30s, according to the National Weather Service in Caribou.

Temperatures will hover in the low- to mid-30s in The County today, Meteorologist Ken Wallingford said Friday evening. Snow flurries are possible late this afternoon in Aroostook, northern Penobscot and Piscataquis counties.

More sun and dry weather was predicted for Sunday as many Thanksgiving travelers head home. Weather along the East Coast was expected to be clear during what airlines have said is their busiest time of the year.

Sunshine and temperatures in the 40s were expected for Monday. A storm that slowly has been making its way across the country is expected to bring rain to most of Maine on Tuesday with temperatures in the low- and mid-40s, Wallingford said.

BDN writers Judy Harrison, Abigail Curtis, Sharon Kiley Mack and Jen Lynds contributed to this report.

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