ANTWERP Six people, including at least four members of one North Lawrence family, were killed Thursday in a fiery, multiple-vehicle crash on Route 11 near Fox Ranch Road in the town of Antwerp.
A seventh person, an employee of the state Department of Transportation, was fighting for his life Thursday evening at Upstate Medical University, Syracuse.
State police said southbound traffic in the area was being stopped during a repaving project. Shortly after 9 a.m., a tractor-trailer, driven by James A. Mills Jr., 45, Myerstown, Pa., was approaching a line of stopped traffic but was unable to stop in time. The rig ran into the rear of one of the vehicles, forcing that car into a third, setting off a chain reaction that ultimately involved six vehicles.
Two vehicles, a sedan occupied by five people and a DOT pickup, burst into flames when their gas tanks exploded, according to Trooper Jack Keller, Oneida troop spokesman.
The tractor-trailer, going into a skid on a slight decline and fresh pavement, hit a 2007 Subaru Forester occupied by Maryann D. Gregory, 59, Dickinson Center. Her car was pushed into either the DOT pickup truck or a 2004 Toyota RAV4, which held five occupants. Trooper Keller said the position of those two vehicles was yet to be determined.
Two trucks at the front of the line of stopped vehicles also were rear-ended, but their occupants were not injured. A flag person at the construction site who was halting southbound traffic also was not injured, Trooper Keller said.
There were four members of a family from North Lawrence in the RAV4. All five passengers were trapped in the car as it exploded in flames, and were killed.
Victims in the car fire were identified by police as Laurie M. Dana, 42, of 11858 Route 11, North Lawrence, a special-education/speech teacher at St. Lawrence Elementary School, Brasher Falls; her daughters, Caitlyn O., 14, who was to enter ninth grade, and Lauren, 11, who was to enter sixth grade; the girls grandmother, Janet Dana, 69, and Catelyns friend Shannon Planty, 14, a student in the Brushton-Moira Central School District.
Ms. Gregory, in the Subaru, suffered massive injuries and died about 12:30 p.m. at E.J. Noble Hospital, Gouverneur. The driver of the DOT truck, Lewis L. Lottie Jr., 44, Nicholville, was taken from the scene in a helicopter to the Syracuse hospital, where police said he was listed in critical condition with massive chest and head injuries.
The two vehicle fires were doused with foam by the Gouverneur Fire Department.
Mr. Mills, the tractor-trailer driver, was taken to Samaritan Medical Center, Watertown, for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries, and for testing for drugs and alcohol under federal and state requirements for commercial motorists involved in fatal accidents. He subsequently was turned over to state police for the continuing investigation.
Signs warning of doubled fines for speed violations in work zones were posted for both northbound and southbound traffic, but there were no reduced-speed postings evident.
The truck was coming from North Lawrence after picking up a full load of yogurt, Trooper Keller said.
Route 11 traffic was closed between Somerville Road near the St. Lawrence County line, north of Antwerp, and Fox Ranch and Dickson roads, which intersect at Route 11.
A traffic accident reconstruction team from Oneida was on the scene. Troopers measured road distances to the north on Route 11, well out of sight of the scene. Trooper Keller declined to discuss potential charges as a result of the crash. He said representatives of the Jefferson County district attorneys office and medical examiners office were at the scene participating in the investigation.
Christopher Taylor, Potsdam, of the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control, also was called to assist.
A state police helicopter circled the area for about 20 minutes for aerial-view photography.
Margaret Barbarito, 39216 Fox Ranch Road, heard the crash while working in her barn, then saw flames shooting out of one of the vehicles. Someone came up to her asking for water, which she provided. She said she stayed away from the crash site.
I didnt want to be near it, she said.
After hearing a loud bang, Michael P. Countryman ran outside of his Dickson Road home and saw a vehicle engulfed in flames and the massive wreck on Route 11.
On the other side of a tractor-trailer I saw a woman upside-down in her car; I reached in and felt a pulse barely, he said Thursday.
The vehicles gas tank also had been leaking, he said.
Before multiple emergency crews arrived on scene, Mr. Countryman said, he broke out a side window of the womans Subaru with a hatchet. He said he and an EMT talked to the woman, but she didnt respond.
He handed me scissors to cut the shoulder strap, then we picked her up and put her on a board, Mr. Countryman said. By the time we got ready to take her out, other EMTs were there.
As the EMT tended to the woman, Mr. Countryman said, he was asked to run across the road to get information from another EMT.
Mr. Countryman said that is when the other EMT told him to relay the message that the driver of the state DOT truck had burns on his back, leg and arms and cuts on his forehead, among other injuries.
Once he reported back to the first EMT, Mr. Countryman said, he asked if there was additional help he could provide, but was told emergency personnel would handle the rest.
I just tried to help as long as I could, he said.
While Mr. Countryman was assisting the EMT, he said, crews paving the section of Route 11 where the accident occurred came running down the road to help, as did other motorists and passengers. Mr. Countryman said he was on scene from about 9 to 10:30 a.m.
DOT spokesman Michael R. Flick said Mr. Lottie, the driver of the DOT truck, who was critically injured, was not a part of the (resurfacing) project.
He was a part of the St. Lawrence County crew on his way to Watertown for a meeting, Mr. Flick said.
He said DOT had been overseeing the Route 11 paving project, which was being completed by Barrett Paving, Watertown. The project stretches 6 miles from Antwerp to the St. Lawrence County line.
Mr. Flick referred other questions to state police.
Troopers were assisted at the scene and in traffic control by the Jefferson County Sheriffs Department, the Jefferson County Office of Fire and Emergency Management and Gouverneur and Antwerp firefighters.
Times staff writer Rebecca Madden and Managing Editor Robert D. Gorman contributed to this report.