Allagash, ME Van Crash Kills 14, Sep 2002
ALLAGASH CRASH KILLS 14 MEN.
Allagash, Maine - Fourteen forestry workers from Honduras and Guatemala were killed when the van they were riding in pitched off a one-lane bridge into the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. It was the worst motor vehicle accident in Maine history.
A single passenger survived when he was able to escape through the van's rear window and swim to the surface in 15 feet of water.
The men were riding to a remote logging camp about 8 a.m. Thursday when they set out to cross a wooden bridge with no guardrails that spans the passage between Eagle Lake and Churchill Lake.
State police troopers suspect imprudent speed may have contributed to the accident.
The van is believed to have been traveling 70 mph on the dirt road approaching John's Bridge, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety. The road is posted for no more than 45 mph, but it is a private road and speeding is not a violation.
State police will reconstruct the accident to determine how fast the rented van was going when the driver lost control about three-fourths of the way across the 260-foot bridge.
"It apparently hit a curbing on the bridge, went off the road, overturned and went into the water upside down, landing in about 15 feet of water," McCausland said. He said the van rode up on the steel beam that forms the bridge curbing for some distance before it toppled over the edge, falling nearly 20 feet to the water below.
The survivor was able to climb out the rear window and swim about 30 feet to shore, where he eventually flagged down passing forestry workers.
Winds up to 45 mph had led to a travel advisory for the northern part of the state, though state police do not believe wind was a factor in the accident, McCausland said.
Fourteen men - 10 from Honduras and four from Guatemala - were trapped in the van. The survivor, a Guatemalan in his early 20's, injured his shoulder but did not require hospitalization, McCausland
said. A Spanish-speaking interpreter was brought in to help police interview him.
Embassy officials from both Central
American countries were working to determine the men's identities and their hometowns so their families could be notified. News of the deaths will be a tragic blow for their communities, they said.
"Most of the people that leave their town to work are usually respected and admired for their courage to go elsewhere and work for a better future," said Ana Villacorta, a spokeswoman for the Guatemalan Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Gov. Angus King said in a statement
that he would contact the leaders of the victims' home nations to express his condolences.
"We will continue to do whatever we can to help those people who lost a loved one in this terrible accident," he said.
Police were not releasing the workers' names pending positive identification by the state medical examiner. Some family members, including the wife of one of the men, had arrived during the afternoon at the camp where the bodies were taken.