A bizarre accident, that could have proved fatal for the driver and the owner of a Middlebury commercial center, ended with a damaged building and some jangled nerves.
Driver Bradley Atkinson, age unknown, of New Jersey was traveling north on Court Street (Route 7) May 8 at approximately 4:25 p.m. when his Cadillac CTS sedan swerved off the highway. Atkinson jumped double concrete curbing on the road's west side and crashed into the northeast corner of Countryside Carpet & Paint located at 16 Creek Rd.
The office of New Market Press, publisher of The Eagle and the Rutland Tribune, is located directly above the impact site, on the building's second floor. Immediately after the impact, occupants of the building's first and second floors rushed outside to help; some said they feared the building might collapse.
Atkinson's vehicle crashed into the building at somewhere between 25 and 30 miles or more an hour. The Cadillac's tire marks were plainly visible in the lawn and provided a clue to the vehicle's oblique angle of travel. The front-end crashed through Countryside's outside wall, broke through a window, and plowed into the desk of store owner Eric Denu of Bridport.
According to Denu, he had walked away from his desk just minutes before the impact. Countryside's staff appeared stunned but expressed thanks that their boss "dodged a very big bullet".
"He's one lucky guy," said Lt. Pat Shaw of the Middlebury Fire Department. "It was a close call."
Shaw happened to have been near the accident scene and immediately called Middlebury Police and the Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association. Lisa Northrup, a volunteer EMT with the Cornwall Fire Department was nearby; she responded rapidly, and along with Shaw, was among the first rescue personnel to arrive at the scene.
The vehicle's driver was conscious but dazed. MVAA emergency personnel removed him from the car and transported him, on a gurney, in an ambulance to Porter Hospital. Middlebury Police Officer George Merkle was on hand to photo-document the accident scene. The vehicle was extracted from the building debris and removed by a flatbed tow-truck crew. The gaping hole in the structure was patched temporarily with plywood boards until repairs are made.
The driver's father, who was driving behind his son, stopped to help. Apparently, father and son were returning to Middlebury from a game of golf. Atkinson's condition, and the reason for the crash, were unknown at presstime.
Denu said Atkinson's vehicle missed the building's support beam by a foot. Had the vehicle entered the building at an angle a few degrees to the left, the impact might have brought down a portion of the building's second floor, according to Denu. The Eagle's general manager Mark Brady was in his office directly above Denu's at the time of the accident.
"If the support beam had been damaged, I might have gone down with this side of the building," Brady said. "Instead, the damage, while serious, didn't result in any fatalities. It was a lucky Friday for everybody."