The pictures are dramatic. A 35-foot divide on a busy mountain road in Lowell and a 25-foot drop straight down.
"I can't believe it to tell you the truth. I can't. It's amazing that this could have happened," Rejean Pion said.
Rejean Pion's friends, Brian and Angel Richardson, were driving up Mines Road around 2:30 a.m. Saturday. They were returning from the airport with their son when the road caved in underneath them.
Their cars slammed 5 feet straight down. As soon as they climbed to safety, the ground continued to give and their cars sank another 20 feet.
So how could this happen? Lowell Road Commissioner Reginald Pion says a quick rainstorm sparked a flash flood down the little brook. The water rose too fast for the 5-foot culvert to handle, the culvert uprooted and the road on top gave way.
"There were stones 2 feet in diameter bouncing over a top the cars. It was really sickening to see," said Lowell Road Commissioner Reginald Pion, who arrived at the scene about 15 minutes after the cars fell through the road.
Pion believes the 5-foot culvert, which replaced a 30-inch culvert in 2012, may not have been properly installed. He says it was put in during a dry season and water flow may not have been taken into consideration.
"I don't think we took proper steps to do it. It should have been done differently, but we work on a shoestring budget here. This is a failure, and we know it," he said.
Pion admits the select board chose a contractor whose bid came in far below all other offers on the table. Now, he realizes that may have been a mistake. State officials tell him likely a bridge-- not a culvert-- is the right type of infrastructure for this waterway.
"I guess it comes to a point you can't think about the dollar. You've got to think about lives. No amount of money would have been worth losing these people," Reginald Pion said.
Brian Richardson was able to turn his wheel to the side so his car wouldn't land right on top of the one carrying his wife and child. Everyone is OK, but the image of the cars' deployed airbags and one vehicle filled with dirt, shed light on how scary the situation was.
"It makes me sick. When you first see your neighbor, your friend, with heir face all blood because they crashed in your road-- you want to cry," Reginald Pion said.
State transportation officials say they'll be on site Tuesday to determine what type of drainage structure is needed and the Agency of Natural Resources is likely to make a visit, as well. Pion estimates repairs could cost in excess of $100,000 depending on what the fix is. He says that's money he does not have in his budget that will have to come out of taxpayers' pockets.
WCAX did reach out to the company that installed the culvert in 2012, Navigator Environmental Services, but their numbers were disconnected and our emails bounced back.
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