TOPSHAM, Maine — Topsham police arrested a New Hampshire man Friday evening after he ran from a crash scene on Interstate 295 after allegedly causing the crash by grabbing the steering wheel.
Maine State Police Trooper Christopher Rogers said Monday that he was two or three minutes away from the crash site when it was reported Friday at 5:57 p.m. on I-295 northbound.
The single-vehicle crash involved a 2001 Dodge Neon owned and driven by Matthew St. Peter, 21, of Portsmouth, N.H. St. Peter was heading to Starks for the Heads in Harmony Festival with two passengers who were highly intoxicated, according to Rogers.
As the vehicle passed through Topsham on the highway, the front-seat passenger, Zachary Chevalier, 21, also of Portsmouth, wanted St. Peter “to pull over so he could urinate on the side of the interstate,” Rogers said.
St. Peter refused and said instead that he would leave the highway at the next exit in Topsham. At that point, Chevalier allegedly reached over and grabbed the steering wheel and jerked it. That action caused the car to spin out of control, according to police.
Rogers said the car — which had been traveling at about 75 miles per hour, according to St. Peter — struck one guardrail head on, then bounced across both lanes as it spun around backward and hit a second guardrail on the passenger side. The car came to rest facing south in the northbound passing lane. Rogers said Monday that no other vehicles were involved, and no one in the Dodge Neon suffered serious injury.
When Rogers arrived at the scene, the front-seat passenger was gone. Rogers said Chevalier “took off running through the woods” and through a neighborhood behind the Topsham Fair Mall, wearing a sleeveless purple basketball shirt and jeans.
Unaware of the crash, Rogers said residents of the neighborhood began calling police to report they had seen a man running through the neighborhood.
According to Topsham Lt. Christopher Lewis, alarmed residents on Harley Drive and Raymond Road reported to police — shortly after the crash — that a male subject ran across their lawns. Topsham Police Officer Robert Ramsay found Chevalier and ordered him to stop, but the man fled into the woods off Raymond Road.
Ramsay and his police dog, Marco, subsequently apprehended Chevalier. Topsham police arrested Chevalier for failing to submit to arrest or detention.
Rogers also charged him with reckless conduct stemming from Chevalier’s alleged grabbing and cutting of the steering wheel, which Rogers said risked the lives of all three occupants of St. Peter’s cars as well as those of other motorists on the interstate.
Police took Chevalier to Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, where he posted bail a short time later, according to Rogers.
Beer that had been inside St. Peter’s vehicle splashed all over the crash scene, Rogers said. A cooler in the back seat spilled some beer and a 30-pack flew out the window and over a guardrail.
The number of beer bottles strewn about made it difficult to determine if there were open containers of alcohol at the time of the crash, Rogers said.
If one of the passengers was drinking at the time of the crash, it could have resulted in a civil infraction for the driver, he said.
The driver, St. Peter, was sober, cooperative and perfectly fine to be driving, Rogers said. He was taken to Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick for observation due to blurry vision. He was released shortly thereafter.
The passenger in the back seat, Mark Barlow, 21, of Portsmouth, was not injured. Although he initially refused to identify the passenger who fled, Rogers said Barlow eventually cooperated. Neither St. Peter or Barlow was charged.
The car sustained about $2,700 in damage. Topsham Fire and Rescue responded to the crash.