WINDSOR — A three-car crash Thursday morning that left one man dead and four other people injured resulted from a weaving, high-speed drive up Route 17 as a teenage passenger tried to wrest control of the car from an unhinged driver, witnesses said.
The driver, identified by police late Thursday as Madison Martin, 28, of Augusta, died at the scene.
The initial investigation showed that drugs, erratic operation and speed were factors in the accident, said Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty.
Liberty said that witness reports of the “erratic operation” of the car show the driver had “a complete disregard for public safety.”
“This was an unnecessary, tragic loss of life,” he said.
Martin’s passenger, a 17-year-old Chelsea girl whose identity was not made public, was taken by LifeFlight helicopter to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, where she was being treated in the intensive care unit for life-threatening injuries.
A Whitefield couple injured in the crash, Richard Newcombe, 63, who was driving, and his wife, Peggy Newcombe, 62, remained hospitalized Thursday night. Richard Newcombe was being treated at CMMC for non life-threatening injuries. Peggy Newcombe was initially taken by ambulance to MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta before being transferred to Maine Medical Center in Portland, where she was listed in satisfactory condition Thursday night while undergoing treatment in the emergency room.
The third driver, James Tasse, 49, of Cape Elizabeth, was taken by ambulance to MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta for non life-threatening injuries.
The crash occurred around 10:30 a.m. at the Melaney Road intersection of Route 17. Martin, speeding east on Route 17 in a Buick Reatta came up behind Tasse’s Toyota Sienna van, which witnesses said was traveling at the 55 mph speed limit. The Reatta, a sedan, hit the van from behind and pushed it across the oncoming lane, where it went up an embankment and rolled over. Witnesses said the Raetta then hit the Newcombe’s west-bound Toyota Highlander head on, spinning both vehicles around.
Jim Rogers of Chelsea said he was talking to police dispatchers on his cellphone and trying to get the car’s license plate number as he followed Martin. Rogers said he gave chase after the Buick left Windsor Road near the Crystal Falls club and nearly hit his pickup as he drove east on Route 17.
“He almost T-boned me because he rolled the stop sign at Crystal Falls,” Rogers said. “He literally slid onto Route 17.”
Rogers said he saw the teenage passenger repeatedly hit Martin and grab the steering wheel in an effort to control the car.
“She was actually correcting the car,” Rogers said. “She’d be in the ditch one minute and over the yellow line the next.”
The Buick sped east, weaving from side to side and passing cars, Rogers said. At one point it hit a car while trying to pass it on the right side near Mazie’s Restaurant. “That’s when he went into triple digits. He was just flooring it,” Rogers said.
Cpl. Scott Mills of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office, who responded to the scene, said investigators are still looking into the crash near Mazie’s. Nobody was hurt in that crash, he said.
Mills said reconstructionists are still trying to determine how fast Martin was driving, but Rogers and Kim Boivin, who lives adjacent to the crash site, estimated the car was traveling more than 100 mph when the crash occurred.
Rogers jumped from his truck to help Martin and his passenger. The teenage girl was unresponsive and in and out of consciousness, he said, and the man later identified as Martin died within seconds.
“His pulse stopped while I was checking it,” Rogers said.
Boivin, whose 17-year-old son witnessed the crash, raced to douse the smoking Buick with water from a garden hose and buckets as the girl remained trapped inside.
“My son and I kept bringing up buckets of water,” Boivin said. “We tried to control the smoke the best we could. There was just so much smoke.”
Mills and Kennebec County Sheriff Deputy Jeremy Daybroke out the Buick’s rear window in an effort with Windsor firefighters to free the girl, Liberty said. Day was taken to MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta, where he was treated for minor cuts and burns.
“Deputy Day extinguished the flames with his hands and arms while others extinguished the flames with fire extinguishers,” Liberty said. “I’m confident that the bravery of the deputies and firefighters in this incident saved the young girl’s life.”
Boivin said there have been several crashes in the area caused by speeding and sometimes distracted drivers.
“This is by far the worst. This is horrific,” she said. “This is by far one of the worst things I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Martin was sentenced in 2007 in Cumberland County Superior Court to 10 years in prison, with all but four years suspended, for convictions on four counts of robbery in connection with his role in a string of Portland Pie Co. robberies, including one involving a delivery driver, in Portland and South Portland.
The Portland Press Herald reported that Martin, a former Pie Co. employee, and his accomplices rounded up employees and put them in a walk-in cooler during one of the robberies and assaulted a manager during another attempt. The robbers reportedly kicked and choked the delivery driver during that robbery attempt, and a gun was shown in at least three of the incidents.
In 2007, Martin reportedly injured four corrections officers at the Cumberland County Jail after staff determined he was under the influence of a drug.
Martin was arrested in Augusta in May and charged with violating a protective order. He was sentenced to 18 days in jail.
Craig Crosby — 621-5642