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Wed., Oct. 7
Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York
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Multi-vehicle Massena accident damages building


MASSENA — Main Street descended into chaos Wednesday afternoon as a multi-car accident overturned one car and a pickup truck barreled into a hair salon.

The accident in front of First United Methodist Church at about 4:37 p.m. left three people hospitalized. Hairitage House, 181 Main St., sustained extensive damage from the crash.

A 72-year-old Massena woman was airlifted to Upstate Medical Center for treatment of serious injuries she suffered after she struck two other vehicles on Main Street before losing control of her truck and slamming into the Hairitage House.

Police said Barbara Peets of 1880 state Route 420, Massena, was northbound on Main Street when she sideswiped a van near McDonald’s, just south of the Route 37 intersection, being operated by Roger J. LaGrue, 65, of Cornwall, Ont. LaGrue and a passenger in his vehicle, Judith K. Cheney, 61, of 8655 Route 11, Potsdam, were not injured.

Police said Mrs. Peets continued through the intersection and traveled approximately a block before rearending a 2008 Impala being operated by Geri E. Rausch, 58, of 11184 state Route 37. Approximately a hundred yards later, she rearended Ms. Rausch’s vehicle a second time.

That collision drove Ms. Rausch’s car off the roadway, where it struck a tree and came to rest on its roof in front of the First United Methodist Church.

Ms. Rausch and a passenger in Mrs. Peets’ truck, Barbara L. Vazquez, 70, of 374 Gladding Road, Massena, were transported to Massena Memorial Hospital by Massena Rescue for complaints of bodywide pain.

The Peets’ truck continued northbound in the grass, striking a tree and a fire hydrant before the driver’s front of the truck embedded itself in the foundation of the Hairitage House, directly under the station of one of the hair stylists. Michael J. Gagner and his client were knocked to the floor by the force of the collision.

Police said they did not have a condition report on Mrs. Peets. She was transported by ambulance to the Alexandria Bay, where Massena Rescue were expected to meet up with a helicopter so she could be airlifted to the Syracuse hospital.

They said the cause of the accident is still under investigation, including whether Mrs. Peets was suffering from a medical condition at the time of the incident.

Lori J. Collins, Hairitage House owner, saw the black truck speeding toward her business. She was painting a customer’s nails at the time.

“The two of us grabbed each other. We kind of screamed. We thought it was going to hit us,” she said. “The whole building got engulfed in smoke. We got out of there.”

The hardwood floor underneath her buckled, she said. She smelled gas as she ran out and wasn’t sure if the business could continue there, as the pickup had slammed into its foundation. Authorities said a gas line ruptured at the scene, creating additional concerns.

“The building is 110 years old and I think it’s done,” she said.

Michael J. Gagner, 52, said he had a client in his chair when he looked out the window. “I saw a truck coming at the building very fast. I saw it hit the embankment and then come straight at my room I saw that truck hit the embankment and it was basically airborne. It looked like Dukes of Hazzard,” he recalled.

“We’re lucky to be alive,” Mr. Gagner said, sporting a large gash to his nose and a possible broken nose after being knocked to the floor.

“It blew out the windows, the foundation, the wall right out. It knocked my client out of the chair,” according to the veteran Massena hair stylist.

At one point, Mrs. Peets’ pickup crossed into the southbound lane. Cindie A. Cringle of Massena swerved her car out of its way, coming to rest near a Jesus statue in front of Sacred Heart Church.

“It was just horrific,” she said. “The black car was going very fast, sporadic, and out of control. ... Thank God I was paying attention.”

“I’m glad I didn’t hit the statue,” she added. “I can’t imagine why anybody would be going like that.”

The accident’s debris field stretched from the Kentucky Fried Chicken parking lot down to the salon. Garbage, car parts and glass were strewn across Main Street, which was reopened to traffic by 7 p.m. A crowd gathered along the normally busy street to witness the scene.

The pickup nearly struck other vehicles as well. Charlene A. Avery was turning into Massena Savings & Loan with her 10-, 8- and 6-year-old sons when she saw the truck in her rearview mirror speeding down the street. She turned into the parking lot before the truck could strike her.

“I was thinking, oh my God, what was (she) doing,” she said. “(She) was just flying through here ... I think we had angels watching over us.”

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