NORRIDGEWOCK — A 20-year-old Mercer woman is likely paralyzed after the pickup truck she was driving crashed twice in one night and started to burn as she allegedly tried to evade a state trooper.
Maine State Police Trooper Scott Duff was driving home after work early Friday morning when a white pickup truck motored toward him in the middle of Wilder Hill Road, heading toward U.S. Route 2, he said.
Though the 1999 GMC truck wasn’t speeding, Duff said he had to pull his cruiser over to the side of the road around 12:20 a.m. to avoid it.
“Coming towards me, it was closer than comfort,” he said.
The truck, driven by Katie White, sped up after it passed Duff. By the time he made a U-turn and rounded a hill to catch it, he said he saw its lights bounce as it hit a ditch and landed in the yard of a house at 531 Wilder Hill Road.
The truck had missed the driveway and skidded across the lawn, and White and a 33-year-old female passenger from Norridgewock had fled by the time he arrived, Duff said. He radioed for a tracking dog and tried to disable the truck, but it was equipped to start without a key, he said.
The truck ended up with its front end slightly in a hole in the ground that used to be a cellar, according to homeowner Kathy Wilder.
Lights and the sound of car doors slamming woke her, and when she looked out her window she saw the truck had missed her house by about a foot, she said.
Though she didn’t see anyone by the truck, she realized someone was on her front porch with a flashlight.
“I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I was completely confused. All I knew was there was someone out there shining a flashlight in the house,” she said.
Holding her dog with her left hand, she opened the door with her right hand to see who was on her porch, she said, and was relieved to find Duff, who explained the situation.
When he left the porch, Wilder called her parents who live down the road and told them to look out for someone trying to evade police. While she was on the phone, she heard noises by the truck.
“I said, ‘Mom, I’ve got to get off the phone and load my gun,’ ” she said, imagining “some crazy guy on ‘bath salts.’ ”
She never saw who got in the truck. “A second later I saw the trooper flying up Wilder Hill.”
Duff said he had driven a short distance in the direction the women had been heading on the road earlier, to see if he could spot them. When he turned around, the driver had emerged from where she was hiding, probably across the road, and gotten back in the truck.
He saw the truck’s brake lights as it sped down the road, heading back the way it originally came.
“I was kind of playing catch-up the whole time. I don’t know if it was necessarily a chase,” Duff said.
He followed the truck into Smithfield where the road turns to dirt. That’s where it veered to the left-hand side of the road, struck a rock outcropping by a driveway and became airborne.
Duff learned later that the passenger, who he did not name, had opted not to get in the truck after the first crash. And it’s a good thing she didn’t.
“She absolutely would have been killed. No doubt about it,” he said.
The truck smashed through a utility pole, throwing a 15-foot section of pole approximately 35 yards down the road and scattering power lines in the road. Duff had already driven over downed lines, which he couldn’t see because of the dust from the road.
White was not wearing a seatbelt, “but she was still inside, amazingly enough,” Duff said.
The destroyed truck was still running, and a small fire had started underneath the cab. Despite the wires, Duff broke into the driver’s side and saw White.
She was conscious and able to talk, but severely injured, he said. He reached in to turn off the truck and he put out the flames with a fire extinguisher.
An ambulance, Central Maine Power, Norridgewock and Smithfield fire departments, more troopers and a deputy from the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office arrived on the scene, and White was removed from the truck.
“She is most likely paralyzed from the waist down,” he said.
She was taken to the Smithfield Fire Department, where a LifeFlight helicopter flew her to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.
On Tuesday, White was listed in fair condition. Fair condition means vital signs are stable and within normal limits; the patient is conscious but may be uncomfortable; and indicators are favorable, a hospital spokesman said.
The passenger was not injured in the first crash. Duff said a firefighter found her walking on Wilder Hill Road.
The District Attorney’s Office will review the case and determine if charges are appropriate. In any serious crash, it’s typical for medical personnel to test blood for alcohol, and Duff said the results were not complete as of Tuesday afternoon. White had held a suspended license.
Emergency personnel remained on scene until about 2 a.m.
Erin Rhoda — 612-2368