By Shawn Regan and Mark Vogler
---- — METHUEN — Adrian Merced and his two brothers were headed home early yesterday when their car almost hit a recently crashed Mercedes on Interstate 495 North.
“We had just left Lawrence General Hospital where we said ‘good-bye’ to our grandmother, who had passed away,” recalled Merced, 24, of Bradford.
“It was really close, we almost ran into the car. We swerved at the last minute and stopped in front of it. We pulled over to see what was going on. Then we noticed a whole section of guard rail taken out, then looked over the ledge and saw this whole tractor trailer — in pieces — all the way down the hill,” he said.
Merced said he and his brothers, Feliciano, 31, and Noberto, 32, expected to find “some dead bodies” amid the wreckage of the Mercedes and the tractor trailer rig that had gone down the embankment.
But state police said nobody was seriously injured in the I-495 accident, which happened around 3 a.m., just north of the exit ramp of Route 213.
State police charged Merecedes driver Lakrisa Jefferson, 28, of Methuen, with operating under the influence of liquor and also cited her for a marked lanes violation in the crash.
Jefferson and the driver of the tractor trailer, John Bacon, 62, of Gorham, Maine, were transported by ambulance to Lawrence General Hospital for treatment of what police described as “non life-threatening injuries.”
State police continued to investigate the crash and released few details about how the Land Air Express of New England tractor trailer careened down the embankment and came to rest on the bottom, next to Merrimack Street (Route 110) in Methuen near the Whirlaway Golf, Running and Sports Center. The cab separated from the box section of the truck. State Trooper Nicole Morrell said Jefferson will be summonsed to court on the criminal charges.
The crash forced the closure of all three lanes of the highway for about 15 minutes. The left lane reopened first and the other two reopened 20 minutes later, according to Trooper Morrell. It took about three hours for Coady’s Towing of Lawrence to remove the tractor trailer and clear the area.
Adrian Merced, who with his two brothers were the first to arrive at the crash scene, marveled that nobody was killed.
“I thought we were going to be looking for a dead body outside (the cab), lying in the grass,” Merced said.
“But luckily the guy was still in the cab. When we got to the window, we saw that he was stuck in his truck and couldn’t get out. It was tilted on its side and we had to pry the door open. We jumped onto the cab, and Noberto and I pulled the door open. We had to pluck him out and pass him onto my brother Feliciano. We helped him all the way up the hill and put him in Feliciano’s car,” he said.
Bacon complained about being cold, so the brothers gave him a shirt to wrap around his body, according to Adrian. Next, they turned to the twisted wreckage of the Mercedes.
“That car was really wrecked — worse than the truck itself,” Adrian recalled.
“The Mercedes was in pieces — all over the road. It was smoking in the front. One head light was on. The windows were smashed. The tires were all the way down to the rim and the car was all smashed up,” he said.
A paramedic was soon on the scene to assist the woman driver, who seemed dazed in the car.
“It was a horrible night,” Feliciano said of the evening, which began with an 11:30 p.m. visit to the hospital to see his grandmother for the final time.
Liduvina Cepeda, 75, a native of Puerto Rico, would only live a few more hours after her grandsons left her hospital room.
“My mother came home at 10:30 this morning and told us she had passed,” Feliciano said.