Wreckage from deadly crashes a sober reminder of risks of the road

Vermont State Police are concerned about deadly crashes as we approach summer.
Published: Apr. 29, 2021 at 6:12 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 29, 2021 at 8:06 AM EDT
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NEW HAVEN, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont State Police are concerned about deadly crashes as summer approaches and more people are traveling. And they say a big part is educating drivers about the consequences and aftermath of crashes.

Last July was the deadliest on the road in a decade. There have been 12 deadly crashes so far this year resulting in 14 deaths.

When a car is involved in a fatal accident, the car is held indefinitely so police can investigate. Six of those cars are at the New Haven State Police Barracks.

“There are moments where the air in the room is definitely heavy,” Vermont State Police Tpr. Ryan Normile said.

Normile knows what it means to inform someone of an accident that has killed a loved one because he’s done it. And an investigation is inevitable.

“Generally, three to four days. We give the family time, but we make contact with them to let them know we need to speak to them about the last 24 hours,” said Normile.

He has only been on the job a short time, but he is all too familiar with the cars sitting at the barracks involved in deadly accidents.

“Those cars are kept because there is evidence located on them that shows how the cars came together, what sort of damage they sustained. Then, they help put the pieces back together,” said Vermont State Police Sgt. Thomas Howard, the team leader for the crash reconstruction unit.

He says the cars are held indefinitely, and ultimately it is up to the individual state’s attorney to determine their fate.

When the team arrives on the scene after a crash, they often collect short-term evidence like skid marks on the road. But the investigation is ongoing and can take years, meaning the car is considered long-term evidence.

Damaged car parts, or lack thereof, play a role in determining what happens in a case, but Howard says these cars go beyond just evidence or numbers.

“When we talk about the number of fatalities that occur in the state, sometimes it’s just a number, but whether you are driving past the barracks and going to the scene, or you’re coming to the barracks and looking at the cars, it just goes to show you the story that is associated with each one. Though it might just be a number or statistic that comes out weekly, these are life-altering events,” he said.

When a car is involved in a fatal accident the car is held indefinitely so police can investigate, six of those cars are at the New Haven State Police Barracks.

State police say these lots are an opportunity to not only mourn but also to educate.

“The great humanity behind what we are seeing is that it locks the human beings who are victimized in these moments frozen in time,” said Vermont State Police Sgt. Jay Riggen.

He says for families, the incident doesn’t mark just an end of life, but a beginning of suffering. So, in an attempt to avoid more pain, police are trying to pivot to a more education-driven model, even if it involves difficult images.

“Communicate to the public that these incidents don’t occur in a vacuum, they are all of our ends, if we don’t appreciate the role the individual plays in it,” Riggen said.

That can come through news, social media or person-to-person contact at traffic stops. They say showing real, sometimes graphic images is important despite the occasional public pushback.

As Normile sees his own barrack’s lot full of cars from his county, it reminds him of the value of continued education.

“When I stop someone, I always make sure that I say, ‘Follow the rules, wear your seat belt.’ I always give those reminders to people because it’s little moments like that, that can just change someone’s life,” said Normile.

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