The National Transportation Safety Board has faulted the Augusta Police Department and United Bikers of Maine for poor communication and planning in a 2017 charity toy run that left two motorcyclists dead.
The safety board, which released its report into the fatal toy run on Tuesday, concluded that Augusta police and United Bikers of Maine, the event’s organizer, put participants and other drivers at risk by routing an estimated 3,000 motorcyclists onto Interstate 95 without a proper safety plan or traffic control measures.
On Sept. 10, 2017, the motorcyclists gathered for the 36th annual United Bikers of Maine Toy Run at the Augusta Civic Center, where they departed about noon to I-95, according to the NTSB report. The motorcyclists planned to travel north on the interstate from Exit 12B to Exit 113, where they would exit the highway and continue east on routes 3 and 202 to Route 32 before proceeding south to their destination, the Windsor fairgrounds.
But the toy run turned deadly before the motorcyclists could exit the interstate, according to the report.
A 2017 Harley-Davidson XL 1200 motorcycle driven by 25-year-old Aaron White-Sevigny of Windsor drove across three lanes of traffic into the path of a 2008 Ford F250 driven by 67-year-old William Nusom of Hollis, the report said. Nusom attempted to avoid White-Sevigny’s motorcycle, but collided with it before losing control of his truck and striking four other motorcycles.
White-Sevigny and his passenger, 58-year-old Jamie Gross of Belmont, were killed in the collision, while Nusom, his 99-year-old mother, Anna Nusom, and five other motorcyclists were injured, according to the report. All the injured were taken to MaineGeneral Medical Center.
Maine State Police later determined that William Nusom’s pickup truck was traveling at 56 mph when White-Sevigny’s motorcycle crossed into his path at 25 mph; the posted speed limit on that stretch of I-95 is 65 mph, according to the NTSB report.
“[T]he speed differential between the pickup truck and the crash [sic] motorcycle … gave the pickup truck driver little warning of, or time to react to, the unexpected lane encroachment by the motorcycle,” the report said.
NTSB investigators found that, unlike previous events, Augusta police didn’t coordinate with the state police to assist with traffic control on the interstate, and as a result, no state trooper was posted between Exits 12B and 13 nor were any lanes closed for the toy run. The event’s organizers also did not request authorization from the Maine Department of Transportation for a lane closure to enable the toy run to proceed more safely onto I-95. The Transportation Department requires a permit for any interstate lane closure exceeding 20 minutes, but the safety board concluded a permit likely would have been denied as the toy run would have required a lane closure up to an hour.
“Had the through lane (or lanes) been separated from the lane (or lanes) being used for the Toy Run with barrels or other barriers, such as those used for a work zone, motorcycle-riding participants would have been physically prevented from entering the flow of highway traffic. At the very least, changeable message signs (as part of a comprehensive traffic management plan) could have warned other road users of the Toy Run event and imposed a significantly lower temporary speed limit for highway traffic,” the report said.
The safety board concluded that had secondary roads with lower speed limits or adequate traffic control measures been used the toy run would have been far more likely to end safely.
In December 2018, two motorcyclists — Torri A. McGraw and Trevor T. Proctor of Lisbon — who suffered serious injuries in the 2017 toy run sued the family of White-Sevigny and the United Bikers of Maine in Androscoggin County Superior Court for negligence in the crash.