ANTWERP, N.Y. (AP) — An SUV burst into flames and six people were killed on a northern New York road Thursday when a tractor-trailer rear-ended a vehicle in a work zone and caused a chain-reaction crash, police said.
Five of the people killed were trapped in an SUV when it was struck and burst into flames. State police identified the driver as Laurie Dana, 42, an elementary school speech therapist from Lawrence, a rural town about 60 miles northwest of the crash site and 15 miles south of the Canadian border. Also in the vehicle were her two daughters, Catelyn, 14, and Lauren, 11, and her mother-in-law, Janet Dana, 69. The fifth victim was Shannon Planty, 14, a friend of Catelyn.
Trooper Jack Keller said the vehicle had stopped or was moving slowly because of road repaving on Route 11 in the Jefferson County town of Antwerp. The tractor-trailer slammed into the back of one vehicle, causing collisions with a state Department of Transportation truck and the SUV.
Keller said the driver of the first vehicle, Maryann Gregory, 59, of Dickinson Center in Franklin County, died at a hospital.
Tractor-trailer driver James A. Mills Jr. of Myerstown, Pa., was taken to a hospital for treatment.
The DOT truck driver, 54-year-old Lewis Lottie Jr. of Nicholville, was flown to Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse with head and chest injuries, Keller said. He was in critical condition Thursday afternoon.
The crash happened near Fort Drum, 85 miles northeast of Syracuse. The site is on a straight, flat section of the two-lane road, the main east-west highway across four rural northern counties along the Canadian border. There were plenty of signs warning motorists that crews were working on the road, Keller said.
The tractor-trailer "plowed right into them," he said by telephone from the scene. "We're trying to determine what happened."
Michael Countryman told the Watertown Daily Times that he ran outside after hearing the loud crash and saw a vehicle engulfed in flames.
"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 told the paper.
The vehicle's gas tank also was leaking, he said. Countryman said he broke out a side window of Gregory's Subaru with a hatchet. He said he and an emergency medical technician talked to the woman, but she didn't respond.
"He handed me scissors to cut the shoulder strap, then we picked her up and put her on a board," Countryman said.
Signage on the tractor-trailer indicates it is owned by MBM Customized Foodservice Distribution based in Rocky Mount, N.C. A company spokeswoman didn't immediately return a call seeking comment. Keller said the truck was hauling a full load of yogurt from a plant in North Lawrence in neighboring Franklin County.
The federal National Transportation Safety Board was notified but investigators were not going to the crash scene, a spokesman for the agency said.
Laurie Dana and her mother-in-law lived on the same stretch of Route 11 and frequently did things together, said Joyce Sheppard, who has lived two houses away from Laurie Dana for the past four years. The Dana family has a dairy operation and Sheppard's retired husband sometimes helps out.
"A very nice family," she said Thursday evening. "They were very friendly with us. She gave us a Christmas basket last year, which was nice."
Janet Dana's husband Don stopped by the Sheppard house to break the news to their neighbors.
"I'm sorry," Sheppard said. "We're overwhelmed."
Sheppard saw Laurie Dana drive by just ahead of her Thursday morning, on her way to pick up Janet Dana.
"I feel terrible because I saw them and didn't wave or anything," she said. "They were just going on their way."
Sheppard said Catelyn and Lauren were "beautiful little girls."
She expects the community will rally around the family.
"We're just trusting in the lord," she said. "That's all we can do for now."