Know those planning sessions for a big drill and you fantasize some ridiculous series of events all happening...

"Ok, so we'll have a tractor trailer hit a car, flip over onto a bus, we'll have the car hit a prisoner van for good measure, through in a bunch of bystanders & witnesses to make the scene a bit more confusing...oh, and let's screw with the IC by telling him half-way through one of his firefighters just got hurt..."

Sounds like Gardner did a good job with it though when it happened:

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Man killed, 11 injured as truck hits car and bus

Seniors, children among victims in Gardner crash

By George Barnes and Jason Feifer TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF

Yesterday’s accident in Gardner involved the station wagon at left, the tractor-trailer in center and the MART bus at right. (T&G Photo / RICK CINCLAIR)
Enlarge photo


Attached files:
» GRAPHIC: Map and accident diagram (GIF, 50355 kb)

GARDNER- Taxi driver Tonya Divoll was heading out of Manca Drive with a fare around 10:30 a.m. yesterday when the station wagon in front of her pulled out onto West Broadway and immediately collided with a tractor-trailer truck filled with sand.

The eastbound truck then smashed into a westbound Montachusett Area Regional Transit bus, hurling sand into the bus, before tipping onto its side. The station wagon crashed into a fence and damaged a Gardner Prison van parked on the other side, injuring an inmate inside it who was taking a break from a roadside work detail.

The Athol man driving the station wagon, a Chevrolet Celebrity, was killed and 11 others were injured in the multiple-vehicle crash. It occurred eight days after public-safety crews in the Gardner area had enacted a disaster drill involving a car hitting a bus.

“I was stunned,” Ms. Divoll said later in the afternoon after telling her boss at Smiley’s Taxi that she was taking the rest of the day off. “It was something you see in a horror movie.”

The station wagon’s driver, Rafael Garcia, 49, of Athol died at 3:12 p.m. at UMass Memorial Medical Center — University Campus in Worcester, where he had been taken by helicopter.

The front-seat passenger in the car, Miguel Toledo, 55, of Spruce Street, Leominster, also was taken by helicopter to UMass, where he was reported by a nursing supervisor last night to be in critical condition.

Of the other 10 crash victims, one was the truck driver, Jamie D. Breault, 41, of Athol; one was the inmate, Shaun Tiago, 23; three were back-seat passengers in the station wagon; and five were in the bus.

Gardner Firefighter Dino Poudrette also was injured while working at the scene. Hospital officials said he was treated for back injuries at Heywood Hospital in Gardner and released.

Phillip Rocca, general manager of the transit authority, said the driver of the bus was Jean P. Cormier, 39, of Baldwinville Road, Templeton. He said Mr. Cormier suffered a gash on his leg and bumps and bruises.

Gardner Police Sgt. Roger Wrigley identified the injured bus passengers as Emilia Gallant, 89, 116 Church St.; Frank Corapinsky, 85; Constance Fournier, 88; and Greta Kemp, 73. They were the only passengers on the bus.

Mr. Cormier and the four passengers were taken to Heywood Hospital along with Firefighter Poudrette and the three back-seat passengers in the car — Norberto Torres, 34; his 10-year-old daughter, Blanca; and his 9-year-old son, Norberto Jr. Mr. Tiago, who was in the Department of Correction van with fellow inmate Carlos Laureano, also was taken to Heywood. Mr. Breault, the truck driver, and Mr. Laureano refused treatment.

A nursing supervisor at Heywood Hospital would not confirm the specific conditions of any of the victims, but said that of the 10 people brought to the hospital, six were treated and released and four were admitted in fair condition, including Blanca Torres.

Fire Chief Ronald P. Therrien said he expected Mr. Poudrette to be out of work for a few days and then on light duty for about one week.

The front end of the station wagon was so badly mangled that firefighters had to cut the roof off to get at the victims. The bus also was badly mangled by the truck. Witnesses said sand from the truck flew into the bus through shattered windows during the collision, leaving the floor of the bus and the passengers covered with sand.

Most of the sand was dumped onto the road after the truck rolled onto its side.

Ms. Divoll said it appeared the bus was hit when the truck swerved away after striking the car. As the truck went up onto its side, the sand flew out. The truck eventually came to rest on its side in the middle of the road.

The accident blocked West Broadway, and police closed the road from Conant Street to Pleasant Street. The road remained closed until 6 p.m.

Chief Therrien said the accident was the largest mass-casualty accident in the city that he could remember.

“I’ve been here 15 years and I don’t remember incidents that involved more than this,” he said.

The accident required the help of fire departments and ambulances from five communities, three ambulances from Woods Ambulance, state and local police and even inmates on the work release detail. Heywood Hospital also went into emergency mode, with off-duty doctors and nurses coming in to help those on duty.

State police assisted Gardner police with their accident-reconstruction and truck teams, as well as in directing traffic.

The inmates on work release had stopped at the Municipal Garage to use the rest rooms. They helped firefighters rescuing victims trapped in the car by removing the fence the car had driven into.

The truck was an 18-wheeler owned by W.J. Graves Construction Co.

W.J. Graves Construction has a sandbank and gravel business about three and a half miles west of the accident scene, in East Templeton.

The accident was reported about 10:38 a.m. Ms. Divoll said the car was driving slowly out onto West Broadway from Manca Drive when the truck hit it.

“I didn’t see it coming,” she said. “I heard the squealing brakes and then it seemed to come out of nowhere.”

Tracy L. Day, the passenger in the taxi, had a sense of unreality as she watched the accident unfold.

“I totally thought I was hallucinating or maybe asleep in the car,” she said.

She watched the truck hit the bus and slam down along its side. She said she saw every vehicle skid to a stop. She said she instinctively bolted from the taxi and toward the station wagon.

Ms. Divoll said she called her dispatcher to report the accident and joined Ms. Day in helping the victims.

“I was just worried about the people,” she said. “You see something that horrible in your face, all you can think is to get them out.”

Mrs. Day said some men also came to help, and the group began trying to remove people from the station wagon. While the two men in the front of the car were trapped, Mrs. Day said, the two children were mobile and struggling to get out.

“It wasn’t something pretty to see,” she said.

Once the children were out, Mrs. Day and Ms. Divoll comforted them. Mrs. Day said they were scared and disoriented. She said she tried to calm them down, telling them their father would be all right.

Ms. Divoll said while she was helping comfort the children, their father was nearby complaining of leg pain.

It was a coincidence that the accident occurred eight days after a mass-casualty drill was held at Gardner High School. The scenario involved a car running into a bus.

“It’s almost eerie,” said hospital President Daniel Moen. “It was a bus accident with a similar number of victims.”

Fire Capt. Robert Newton of Gardner and Fire Capt. Kevin Nivala of Westminster were at Gardner High School yesterday conducting a critique of the drill with school officials when they got the call for the accident.

“I rode down with Bob to see if I could help,” Capt. Nivala said.

He became part of the command structure at the accident scene, working in the triage area set up in the parking lot of the Public Works Department barn. Capt. Newton ended up coordinating the transporting of the two victims by helicopter from a landing zone off Manca Drive.

Chief Therrien was the incident commander. He said things went well out at the scene in spite of the many different agencies involved with the effort.

Chief Therrien said calling in help from nearby towns is common and easy to do. The towns involved yesterday were all involved with the drill last week.

“We’ve almost become a regional fire department,” he said.

Witnesses to the accident were few, even though it is a busy section of West Broadway with several businesses operating near the Manca Drive intersection.

One witness, Luann M. Smith, heard but did not see the accident. She was outside her home, just down the road from the accident, and said she heard a loud, rumbling sound.

Mrs. Smith said she assumed it was an explosion. When she walked down to the accident scene, she found what she described as “chaos.”

She arrived before police and firefighters, seeing the overturned truck and mangled car and bus, with people outside and inside the vehicles trying to orient themselves. She said soon cars and trucks with flashing lights began arriving, so many that it was difficult to see what was going on.

As emergency responders raced around, she said, she talked to a truck driver who saw the accident unfold. He was so disturbed that his whole body shook, she said.

“I talked to him briefly, enough for him to say it was the scariest thing he ever saw,” she said.