By Alex Lippa
---- — HAVERHILL — A man suspected of knocking over two convenience stores for cigarettes and beer and stiffing a restaurant on his bill was fleeing police in a stolen minivan yesterday when he rear-ended another car, struck a pedestrian walking his dog, and then hit a tree.
The unidentified 49-year-old driver died shortly after the 11 a.m. accident which occurred just a few yards from the Walnut Square School.
The Essex County District Attorney’s office did not name the pedestrian, but said the 39-year-old Lawrence resident was taken to a local hospital with serious, but non-life-threatening injuries. The 56-year-old Haverhill driver of the Dodge Caravan that was rear-ended was treated and released from a local hospital, the district attorney’s office said.
A Haverhill police officer spotted the stolen silver Honda Odyssey about one hour and 45 minutes after Plaistow, N.H., issued a 9:15 a.m. broadcast about the vehicle being used in the robbery of the Mini Express, 98 Main St. Police reported the driver had stolen two packs of cigarettes and case of beer.
About 10:15 a.m., Haverhill police received a report of a similar robbery at a convenience store involving the same suspect and car. Haverhill Police did not provide further information on the robbery, but said the man in the stolen car reportedly walked out of a Haverhill restaurant Sunday night without paying.
An on-duty Haverhill police officer spotted the Honda just before 11 a.m. According to Haverhill Police, the officer followed the stolen car with his cruiser’s blue lights and sirens on. However, the officer said the suspect sped away heading northbound on Main Street and the officer lost sight of the car.
A short time later, a Haverhill police officer working a traffic detail on Main Street at 16th Avenue spotted the vehicle turn onto North Avenue at a high rate of speed. The officer then heard a “loud collision” and found that the Honda had rear-ended a red Dodge Caravan and then hit the pedestrian who was walking his dog. The Honda Odyssey then struck a tree at 39 North Ave.
Emergency workers had to use the Jaws of Life to free him from the car. Police said the driver was taken to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead a short time later.
Neighbors said they heard the collision and immediately rushed out of their house to see what had happened. They saw the pedestrian lying face down on the street after he was hit by the Honda. The victim was put onto a stretcher and taken to a hospital by ambulance.
Katina Mortimer lives at 39 North Ave. where the crash occurred. She was not home for the accident, but arrived to see the Honda Odyssey wrapped around an oak tree in her front yard.
“There are a lot of bumps on North Avenue,” said Mortimer. “If you hit one at a high speed, I can see where you can easily lose control of the car.”
Judy Reilly, the head teacher at the Walnut Square School, said all of the students at the school were safely inside when the crash occurred.
The accident is being investigated by the Haverhill Police Department Traffic and Safety Unit and the Massachusetts State Police Reconstruction team.