TOWNSHIP 2, RANGE 9, Maine — Andy Jackson first suspected something was terribly wrong when the gray SUV that passed his 18-wheel tractor-trailer truck in the northbound passing lane of Interstate 95 on Thursday cut in front of him without braking.
That intuitive sense, born of driving about 2,500 miles a week, became horror when the 27-year-old Fort Kent man saw the SUV continue into the breakdown lane for about 300 feet before leaving the road and hitting a tree at something close to 75 mph, Jackson said.
“I really knew something was wrong when she went into the breakdown lane and wasn’t stopping. There was no attempt to slow down or nothing: It all happened in one fluid motion,” Jackson said Friday.
“I had never seen anything like it before,” he added. “I am watching her go down and I am thinking, ‘Is this person going to stop? What’s going on?’ And then she hit that tree. She hit it hard.”
A truck driver for R.F. Chamberland of St. Agatha, Jackson was among a half dozen strangers who tried but could do little to help 56-year-old Elizabeth Gould of Millinocket. The SUV’s driver, Gould was pronounced dead at Millinocket Regional Hospital shortly after the accident, which occurred at about 5:30 p.m. The vehicle had no passengers, state police said.
The cause or manner of Gould’s death remains undetermined. Results of a doctor’s examination of her body, and some toxicology tests taken as part of standard procedure in such accidents, could be available by Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the state medical examiner’s office said.
The SUV swung 180 degrees during the impact and slowly caught fire, state police said.
Jackson said he and several others, including two or three people who said they were trained in First Aid and an off-duty police officer, found Gould slumped between the front seats. The SUV’s airbags apparently deployed properly. Gould never regained consciousness, he said.
Other passers-by armed with fire extinguishers doused the flames that eventually appeared, Jackson said. The rescuers considered trying to get Gould from the SUV but feared that moving her would worsen her injuries.
Jackson saw nothing that could have caused or contributed to the accident, he said. The road was wet from a light mist but not enough to cause hydroplaning. No animals darted into the road in front of them, and no other vehicles were apparent, he said.
“This was a medical thing. Something happened to this woman before she went off road,” Jackson said. “It’s my guess that she was maybe having a stroke.”
State police will examine Gould’s vehicle to determine if any defects caused the accident. Trooper Adam Coover, who is investigating the accident, did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment Friday.
The accident was the first Jackson had seen since he began driving truck full time about four years ago. He typically hauls Maine-made products or raw materials, including trees and potatoes, from Maine anywhere east of the Mississippi River, he said.