METHUEN – A head-on collision on Interstate 495 South involving a car that flew across the median into oncoming traffic killed one the drivers and left the other clinging to life.
Kurt Kelly, 32, of Westford, died in the wreckage of his blue 2008 Toyota Camry after it was struck by a black 2005 Toyota Corolla, which left the northbound lane of the highway, hit a dirt median and went airborne into Kelly’s path, according to state Trooper Michael Cogan of the Andover barracks.
Jeffrey Plante, 35, of Newburyport, the driver of the Corolla, suffered life-threatening injuries and was flown by medical helicopter to Boston Medical Center and was undergoing surgery, police said. No information was available on his condition late last night.
Kelly and Plante were the only two casualties of the four-car crash, which occurred about 3:30 p.m., just south of the Route 113 bridge over 495.
Two other vehicles were damaged in the crash, but their drivers weren’t injured and didn’t contribute to the initial crash, according to police. While the cause has not been determined, authorities said alcohol does not appear to be a factor.
A Kohl’s tractor-trailer stopped just short of a demolished car, but was not involved in the crash, despite initial media reports. The driver of the rig, owned by NFI Transportation, was interviewed by state police for witness information.
The crash brought traffic to a standstill on I-495 for several hours into the evening rush, while also causing massive traffic jams on secondary roads in area communities as police were diverting traffic around the crash scene.
The north and southbound sides of I-495 were closed for about 45 minutes to allow the medical helicopter to land and take off. The southbound side remained closed for about 3 1/2 hours to allow for rescue operations, gathering of evidence and clean up of the scene. Traffic was rerouted off the highway at Route 110 in Lawrence and caused a nightmare for commuter traffic.
State police at the scene said it was too soon to say why Plante’s crossed the median.
The cause remains under investigation by Troop A of the Massachusetts State Police, Collision Reconstruction and Analysis Section, Crime Scene Photo and by troopers assigned to the Essex County District Attorney’s Office. State Police were assisted on scene by Methuen Fire Department and Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
Kelly was pronounced dead at the scene. Methuen firefighters, using hydraulic tools, extricated his body, which was removed by a van from the office of the state medical examiner. At the request of the state police, four huge flatbed trucks from Trombly Bros. of North Andover were positioned to shield passing motorists from seeing the scene of the body being removed from a wrecked car.
As the four damaged cars, which also included a Cayenne GTS and a black Equinox, were pulled onto the flatbeds, an investigator with the state police collision analysis team ordered the Trombly’s workers not to try to try starting the vehicles. He needed to have the data in their black boxes preserved, he explained.
Route 113 in Haverhill and Methuen was choked with cars detoured from the highway. Vehicles on 495 south, including truckers with deliveries to make, were stranded for two hours.
Miguel Duk, of North Carolina, was driving his tractor trailer on the southbound side of 495. Since Duk owns his rig and does business as Duk Transport, he didn’t have to explain the delay to a boss.
He said he felt more sadness over the young man’s death than frustration at being stuck on the highway for well over an hour.
“You can replace property, but not a life,” he said. State police and Massachusetts Department of Transportation workers freed up the traffic jam by routing vehicles across the median strip and over to the northbound side.
Even two double trailers carrying cars were able to make the U-turn.
Staff writer Mark E. Vogler contributed to this report.