Tragedy on Connector
Crash claims life of pregnant woman, unborn child
By JACK MINCH, Sun Staff
A Mercury Sable lies mangled after police say it hurtled through the air while heading inbound on the Lowell Connector, crossed the median and struck a station wagon, killing a pregnant woman and her unborn child. Police say the driver of the Sable, who was critically injured, was racing another car.
LOWELL - A pregnant woman and her unborn child were killed in a "horrific" three-car accident on the Lowell Connector yesterday afternoon. State police said another motorist, who was seriously injured, may have been drag racing when he lost control and drove into oncoming traffic. The road was closed for several hours as emergency crews worked first to save the victims then to piece together what happened. "It was a horrific accident," said State Police Lt. Walter Keenan, a 23-year veteran of the state police. Glass, car parts, clumps of grass and blood littered the highway's gouged asphalt.
"There are plates out there, parts of his car," said State Police Sgt. Dennis Bertulli. "I've never seen anything like it." A dispatcher for Trinity Ambulance, which treated the patients and rushed them to city hospitals, said the scene was chaotic in the first moments. With one of the Lowell's major transportation arteries closed to commuters, rush-hour traffic snarled on secondary roads.
Carlos Rodriguez, 18, of Lowell, was driving a 1997 Mercury Sable that was apparently racing another car at speeds of about 92 mph toward Gorham Street when he lost control as it crossed the Plain Street overpass about 4:55 p.m., said Lt. Walter Keenan.
The Mercury rolled and spun several times as it crossed the 30- to 40-foot wide median, then went airborne into oncoming traffic, he said. It hit the roof of a 2002 Subaru Outback station wagon driven by Deborah Hornberger, 31, of Leominster, who was pregnant then caromed off and hit a 2000 Toyota Camry, Keenan said.
Rodriguez was thrown from the car he was driving and landed on the off-ramp to Plain Street. Hornberger, who later died, was apparently left unconscious by the collision, but the car continued on the road. After crossing the overpass, it made a sharp left turn, crossed the median and three lanes of traffic before crashing into a guardrail. The Toyota hit a curb and jumped the guardrail then crashed into trees.
Other motorists rushed to the victim's help and protected the man lying on the road from passing cars. "I have never seen such carnage," wrote Amanda Lee in an e-mail to The Sun describing the wreckage she approached moments after the accident. "I missed the accident by a minute or maybe less. Cars were slamming on their brakes and swerving to miss what was only 100 yards or so away from me." Hornberger was taken to Saints Memorial Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.
Rodriguez was taken first to Lowell General Hospital, then transferred to Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. He was listed in serious condition early this morning. The Toyota's driver, Oun Choun, 38, of Dracut, was standing outside the car when police arrived. She was taken to Saints Memorial, where she was treated and released with minor injuries. Police at the scene could not say if any of the drivers was wearing a seat belt or whether drugs or alcohol were involved in the accident. Investigators believe a Honda may have been racing the Mercury before the crash. Witnesses are encouraged to telephone the state police Andover barracks at (978) 475-3800 or Lowell Police Department at (978) 937-3200.
The accident brings to three the number of people killed in crashes on the Connector this year, not including the unborn child in yesterday's crash. State police call the three-mile highway the most dangerous in Massachusetts.
The Lowell Connector averages a fatal crash every three miles - which is its total length - annually. In comparison, Interstate 495 averages a fatal crash every seven miles in a year, Interstate 93 has a fatal crash about every six miles and Route 128 has a deadly crash every 16 miles. Route 3 averages a fatal crash every 18 miles in the stretch between New Hampshire and Sagamore annually. There are several factors that make the connector a popular place for racing, Keenan said.
"It's somewhat straight - it does have a slight bend but it's somewhat straight - and the traffic at certain times of the day is light, so these kids can line up, let the traffic dissipate and can race without coming upon other vehicles as they do on other heavier traveled highways," he said. "It gives them pretty much a defined area like a one-mile stretch to race in." Jack Minch's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org