For Hanover man, memories of crash won’t fade

  • The driver of this truck was killed in a crash on Interstate 89 in Sutton on Tuesday. Jonathan Van Fleet

Monitor columnist
Published: 10/31/2020 12:45:55 PM

The massive amount of dirt in the left lane of Interstate-89 made Tim Van Leer a little uneasy as he approached the Ford pickup.

He wondered why so much dirt had been dumped on a major highway. But before he got close enough to look inside and see the driver, a woman who would soon die, and her passenger, another woman who remains hospitalized, Van Leer calmed himself, hoping the truck in the median had innocently veered off the road. It had tried to move back onto I-89, spinning its wheels in the process, spreading dirt.

Right?

The clues, though, were mounting on that clear day, Oct. 27, in Sutton, just past noon, alerting Van Leer that he had come upon a horrible accident, and he had come upon it first.

He saw the side curtain airbags that had inflated and turned the inside of the truck a gray hue. He saw the fractured windshield, the missing back window, the driver’s-side door, sheered off. And he saw the two passengers.

A 64-year-old woman from Maine named Sarah Grier was at the wheel, unconscious. Van Leer noticed she had suffered a compound fracture of her left arm. Grier was pronounced dead at the scene.

Van Leer learned of Grier’s fate in just a few days. Identities of people who die in car accidents are named in law enforcement press releases.

But what about the woman in the back seat, unconscious, slumped forward, her face pushing against the back of the driver’s seat? How is she?

That’s why Van Leer he emailed us. The woman in the back seat.

“I’m looking for some closure,” Van Leer, who lives in Hanover, said by phone last week. “It’s so horrible that Sarah passed away in such a horrific way, and I’ve been making calls to the hospital and to friends for contacts. I just want to hear that this girl is okay. That is what I am hoping for.”

Paul Raymond, the strategic communications Administrator for the Department of Safety, told me the State Police do not publish names of car accident victims who survive. At least not until the investigation has concluded, and that could take six weeks.

Meanwhile, the update, provided by Raymond, said the woman is about the same as she’s been since the accident, at which time the press release said she “suffered serious bodily injuries and was flown from the scene to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Canter where she remains in critical condition.”

“No real change,” Raymond said recently.

The investigation continues. So do Van Leer’s coping mechanisms, needed to face snapshots he’ll always carry with him like photos in a wallet. How much he can block out or choose to ignore is unknown.

“I’m sleeping a little better now,” Van Leer said, “but I can not unsee what I saw. How these first responders do it. They do not earn enough money.”

In this case, the first responder was a 56-year-old man from Hanover, a former salesman, stay-at-home dad and big-time volunteer. His family includes his wife, Jodi Picoult, a New York Times best-selling author, and son, Jake, a graduate of Yale Law School.

That’s where the story begins. With Jake. His father picked up a desk for Jake in Concord, to help him study for the bar exam, postponed long ago. Tim was bringing the desk back north, on a nice day. He saw the Ford truck. The police report said it hit a tree.

“It had its blinkers on, but it was parked in a haphazard way,” Van Leer said. “It was off to the left lane and was up at a weird angle, an odd way to park. As I was (driving past) I saw the dirt thrown into the left lane. I pulled over pretty far past it. I thought I should at least call it in.”

So he left his car and walked back, a few hundred yards. He saw the side air bags – alerting him of the possible, horrible scope of the accident – and started running. He saw the glass and the door and the blood.

He saw Grier at the wheel and could see she was breathing. He didn’t want certain details of what he saw printed, but Grier’s compound fracture, minus any reaction from her at all, said a lot. His hands began to shake.

He called 911.

Then he climbed on the back left tire and saw someone slumped forward in the back seat. She was also unconscious and breathing.

“I could see the back of her neck and I saw dreadlocks,” Van Leer said. “I told (911) to hold on, there’s someone else.”

Van Leer’s shaking got worse. He began thinking, probably too much.

“It’s traumatic, mentally traumatic,” Van Leer told me. “Much like when we are talking about it now. To come upon this, I felt incredibly alone standing on the side of the highway with two people in really bad shape.

“I was terrified,” Van Leer continued. “What happens if they wake up screaming? I called back 911. She kept me busy.”

He said he was there for a total of 40 minutes. The first State Trooper on the scene quickly put a tourniquet on Grier’s left arm. Van Leer left just past noon and continued north with the desk he had bought for Jake.

The fatherly gesture – making life comfortable for his son as he prepared for the bar exam – had lost its significance.

“I told (a firefighter) I hadn’t seen the accident and they said go,” Van Leer said. “At this point I just run to my car shaking from the cold and the whole trauma I had experienced.”

He got home and told his wife what had happened, but Picoult was busy interviewing and writing and did not appreciate the emotional scarring that Van Leer felt at the time. It didn’t take long, however, before she caught on to the seriousness of the matter.

Grier was pronounced dead at the scene. She was named in a press release and subsequent media reports.

But what happened to the other woman in the car, found unconscious in the back seat, leaning forward and breathing by time Van Leer left?

She remains alive and nameless. Ironically, Van Leer   described  feelings of  guilt, believing his motivation to learn her condit ion   was based on a desperate quest to feel better. If the woman was feeling better, he’d feel better.

“I am reporting this for selfish reasons,” began Van Leer’s email to the Monitor last week. “I was the first on the scene of a bad accident. It was a grizzly scene for me. I  hope you report on it. “

It’s been five days s ince the crash. News on the wo man could take weeks. Or maybe someone will hear about the Hanover man whose life is engulfed by a vision. Maybe someone will tell him that the woman is doing well.

“I just don’t want to spend the rest of my life wondering,” Van Leer told me. “I just want to find out that she is okay. I could sleep better at night.”

 

 

By RAY DUCKLER

The massive amount of dirt in the left lane of Interstate-89 made Tim Van Leer a little uneasy as he approached the Ford pickup.

He wondered why so much dirt had been dumped on a major highway. But before he got close enough to look inside and see the driver, a woman who would soon die, and her passenger, another woman who remains hospitalized, Van Leer calmed himself, hoping the truck in the median had innocently veered off the road. It had tried to move back onto I-89, spinning its wheels in the process, spreading dirt.

Right?

The clues, though, were mounting on that clear day, Oct. 27, in Sutton, telling Van Leer that he had come upon a horrible accident, and he had come upon it first.

He saw the side curtain airbags that had inflated and turned the inside of the truck a gray hue. He saw the fractured windshield, the missing back window, the driver’s-side door, sheered off. And he saw the two passengers.

A 64-year-old woman from Maine named Sarah Grier was at the wheel, unconscious. Van Leer noticed she had suffered a compound fracture of her left arm. Grier was pronounced dead at the scene.

Van Leer learned of Grier’s fate in just a few days. Identities of people who die in car accidents are named in law enforcement press releases.

But what about the woman in the back seat, unconscious, slumped forward, her face pushing against the back of the driver’s seat? How is she?

That’s why Van Leer he emailed us. The woman in the back seat.

“I’m looking for some closure,” Van Leer, who lives in Hanover, said by phone last week. “It’s so horrible that Sarah passed away in such a horrific way, and I’ve been making calls to the hospital and to friends for contacts. I just want to hear that this girl is okay. That is what I am hoping for.”

Paul Raymond, the strategic communications Administrator for the Department of Safety, told me the State Police do not publish names of car accident victims who survive. At least not until the investigation has concluded, and that could take six weeks.

Meanwhile, the update, provided by Raymond, said the woman is about the same as she’s been since the accident, at which time the press release said she “suffered serious bodily injuries and was flown from the scene to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Canter where she remains in critical condition.”

“No real change,” Raymond said recently.

The investigation continues. So do Van Leer’s coping mechanisms, needed to face snapshots he’ll always carry with him like photos in a wallet. How much he can block out or choose to ignore is unknown.

“I’m sleeping a little better now,” Van Leer said, “but I can not unsee what I saw. How these first responders do it. They do not earn enough money.”

In this case, the first responder was a 56-year-old man from Hanover, a former salesman, stay-at-home dad and big-time volunteer. His family includes his wife, Jodi Picoult, a New York Times best-selling author, and son, Jake, a graduate of Yale Law School.

That’s where the story begins. With Jake. His father picked up a desk for Jake in Concord, to help him study for the bar exam, postponed long ago. Tim was bringing the desk back north, on a nice day. He saw the Ford truck. The police report said it hit a tree.

“It had its blinkers on, but it was parked in a haphazard way,” Van Leer said. “It was off to the left lane and was up at a weird angle, an odd way to park. As I was (driving past) I saw the dirt thrown into the left lane. I pulled over pretty far past it. I thought I should at least call it in.”

So he left his car and walked back, a few hundred yards. He saw the side air bags – alerting him of the possible, horrible scope of the accident – and started running. He saw the glass and the door and the blood.

He saw Grier at the wheel and could see she was breathing. He didn’t want certain details of what he saw printed, but Grier’s compound fracture, minus any reaction from her at all, said a lot. His hands began to shake.

He called 911.

Then he climbed on the back left tire and saw someone slumped forward in the back seat. She was also unconscious and breathing.

“I could see the back of her neck and I saw dreadlocks,” Van Leer said. “I told (911) to hold on, there’s someone else.”

Van Leer’s shaking got worse. He began thinking, probably too much.

“It’s traumatic, mentally traumatic,” Van Leer told me. “Much like when we are talking about it now. To come upon this, I felt incredibly alone standing on the side of the highway with two people in really bad shape.

“I was terrified,” Van Leer continued. “What happens if they wake up screaming? I called back 911. She kept me busy.”

He said he was there for a total of 40 minutes. The first State Trooper on the scene quickly put a tourniquet on Grier’s left arm. Van Leer left just past noon and continued north with the desk he had bought for Jake.

The fatherly gesture – making life comfortable for his son as he prepared for the bar exam – had lost its significance.

“I told (a firefighter) I hadn’t seen the accident and they said go,” Van Leer said. “At this point I just run to my car shaking from the cold and the whole trauma I had experienced.”

He got home and told his wife what had happened, but Picoult was busy interviewing and writing and did not appreciate the emotional scarring that Van Leer felt at the time. It didn’t take long, however, before she caught on to the seriousness of the matter.

Grier was pronounced dead at the scene. She was named in a press release and subsequent media reports.

But what happened to the other woman in the car, found unconscious in the back seat, leaning forward and breathing by time Van Leer left?

She remains alive and nameless. Ironically, Van Leer   described  feelings of  guilt, believing his motivation to learn her condit ion   was based on a desperate quest to feel better. If the woman was feeling better, he’d feel better.

“I am reporting this for selfish reasons,” began Van Leer’s email to the Monitor last week. “I was the first on the scene of a bad accident. It was a grizzly scene for me. I hope you report on it. “

It’s been five days since the crash. News on the woman could take weeks. Or maybe someone will hear about the Hanover man whose life is engulfed by a vision. Maybe someone will tell him that the woman is doing well.

“I just don’t want to spend the rest of my life wondering,” Van Leer told me. “I just want to find out that she is okay. I could sleep better at night.”




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