EDDINGTON, Maine — Text messaging while driving is believed to be a major factor in a fatal crash that occurred late Wednesday night near Eddington Elementary School on Main Road, according to Troy Morton, deputy chief of the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office.
“Moments before the crash took place we did see that text messages were sent back and forth,” the deputy chief said Thursday morning.
Tracy McPhee, 44, of West Enfield was killed just after 11 p.m. when the vehicle she was driving struck a tree, and her passenger, Velvet Cole, 31, of Lincoln remained in the hospital Thursday morning, Morton said.
McPhee was driving a maroon 2001 Chevy Impala heading toward Brewer when she “left the road for no apparent reason,” Morton said. “There were no indications of skid marks. She crossed the eastbound lane and struck a tree head-on,” pinning her and her passenger in the car.
Extrication equipment was used to get the women out of the destroyed vehicle.
McPhee, a mother of two children, died at the scene. Cole “received serious injuries and was transported to Eastern Maine Medical Center,” Morton said.
She was listed in fair condition at the hospital Thursday afternoon.
The sheriff’s department was assisted by Maine State Police and firefighters from both Eddington and Brewer. The roadway, which is also known as Route 9, was closed while crews investigated the fatal crash and cleared the debris.
The investigation is continuing, but early indications are that the collision occurred because McPhee was distracted because she was using her cellphone and texting, Morton said.
Maine joined 33 other states last year in banning texting while driving. Offenders face a minimum fine of $100.
“When we look at the cause of many crashes today,” distracted driving is often listed, Morton said.
In 2009, 5,474 people died in the U.S. as a result of distracted driving, which accounts for about 16 percent of all traffic fatalities, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“It’s a tragic thing that is happening,” Morton said.