Fiery crash kills three teens
NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON — Three local teenagers were killed just after midnight Wednesday morning in a fiery, one-car crash on Overlea Road that police said was caused by excessive speed.
The community, meanwhile, struggled to cope with the abrupt and far-reaching loss.
Killed in the crash were Aaron Sprague, 17, of North Bennington; Arthur Eriksen, 17, of Bennington; and his brother, 15-year-old Tyler Eriksen, according to Bennington Police Lt. Lloyd Dean. The younger Eriksen’s name was not officially released by police but was confirmed by others.
Arthur Eriksen was driving the 2000 Subaru Legacy wagon, according to Dean.
All three boys were students at Mount Anthony Union High school, said Principal Sue Maguire. The school is on its first full week of summer break.
“Our school community is very saddened by the loss of these young men. Our thoughts are with their families and friends,” Maguire said in a statement.
The crash occurred about 300 yards from where Overlea Road intersects with Vermont Route 7A. Dean did not indicate how fast the car was traveling at the time of the crash, but said “speed was definitely a factor.”
The crash remains under investigation.
The three teenagers were heading east toward Route 7A when the car apparently crossed the center line and crashed into a tree off the westbound side of the road, causing it to burst into flames.
Police were dispatched to the scene following
a 911 call at 12:10 a.m. A Vermont state trooper was first to arrive, followed by a Bennington Police officer.
Dean said police were unsuccessful in their attempt to extinguish the flames. The fire was ultimately put out by the Bennington Rural Fire Department. Police then found the three boys deceased inside the vehicle.
Police were initially unable to identify the victims. The vehicle was heavily damaged in the crash and from the resulting fire. In addition, Dean said the car was not registered with the Vermont Department of Motor vehicles, which hampered the investigation. DMV personnel eventually linked the vehicle to its owner, which led to the victims’ parents, Dean said.
The crash victims were identified late Wednesday morning by family members through articles of clothing, according to Dean. All three bodies were set to undergo autopsies Wednesday at the Chief Medical Examiner’s office in Burlington. Police obtained dental records to be used by the medical examiner to confirm positive identification, Dean said.
No evidence of alcohol was seen by police at the crash scene, according to Dean. Police will rely on toxicology tests to rule out alcohol as a factor, he said. Those test results will take about six to eight weeks.
Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette said the crash is a tragedy for the whole community.
“While the investigation is ongoing and continues into this tragic incident, our hearts go out to the families and all of the people that are associated with these families that are in our community. This is clearly a tragic and devastating motor vehicle crash taking the lives of three very young people,” Doucette said. “Setting aside everything else, that’s what we need to focus on.”
Doucette said the crash is the worst he has seen in his 22 years with the department. Initial speed calculations factored by investigators “indicated a very high rate of speed” for the road that led to catastrophic injuries, Doucette said.
“There’s always the standard question, ‘Were they belted?’ Let’s set that aside because at this point it doesn’t matter. This was an unsurvivable motor vehicle crash, without a doubt. The intrusion damage was significant. The vehicle burst into flames on impact. I firmly believe, based on all of my experience at motor vehicle crashes, these people were killed upon impact,” he said. “We want the families to be able to grieve and be able to move on from this. We’ll continue our investigation and the facts will be what they are.”
Witnesses described a horrifying scene in the seconds and minutes following the crash. “I heard a bang and then a few minutes later my front room lit up like a Christmas tree,” said Bea Gulley, who lives adjacent to the property where the crash took place.
There were three loud pops following the impact that “sounded like gunshots,” she said.
Gulley said her son tried to approach the car but the flames and heat were too intense. “My son was coming down to see if there was anything he could do, but the flames,” she said, trailing off. “You couldn’t get near it.”
Sandra Bartlett, said she, too, heard the crash that took place on her property, followed by an explosion. There were already two police officers on scene, and the car was engulfed in flames, before she and her husband made it outside.
“It happened in a matter of seconds. The car hit on one side of the tree … and it kind of flew around and rested on the other side,” Bartlett said. “It looked like it hit head-on.”
Bartlett said she is friends with family members of the victims.
“It’s nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s more heartbreaking than anything. It’s very devastating to know that there were three young boys in that car,” she said. “It’s a terrible, terrible thing. Three young lives gone.”
Despite a steady rain, mourning friends and family visited the crash site throughout the day Wednesday. Some shared hugs, while others shed tears.
A few people at the crash site early Wednesday afternoon said they were compelled to visit it as they dealt with their grief. Others said they were still in shock over the sudden death of the three boys.
“I’ve just been so upset about it. I’ve been crying on and off. It makes me feel better,” said 15-year-old Cody Powers, who was at the site Wednesday evening.
It was largely cleaned of debris by late Wednesday morning. A set of tire tracks could be seen leading directly into a sturdy tree about 10 feet off the side of the westbound lane. The lower portion of the tree was stripped of bark on one side, while the other side, and part of the ground surrounding the tree, was scorched. A memorial of flowers and remembrances had emerged by evening.
Nearly 700 people had joined a Facebook page in memory of the three boys by Wednesday evening. Dozens of comments had already been left by fellow students and friends offering condolences.
Maguire said students can visit the high school library on Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., and Friday from noon to 2 p.m., for drop-in grief counseling.
Doucette said police and rescue personnel are also trying to cope with the aftermath of the crash.
“It affects all of the emergency personnel that were on the scene that really wanted to try to do something, but within seconds of arriving there, my staff could not do anything to help these people. The fire department couldn’t do anything. The rescue squad stood by the entire time. It was devastating to everyone,” he said.
Contact Neal P. Goswami at firstname.lastname@example.org