NEW VINEYARD — A preschool teacher from Kingfield who was killed Monday afternoon in a head-on collision had nowhere to go when an oncoming van veered into her lane, police said Tuesday.
Samantha Wright, 38, married and with a young daughter, died at the scene on Route 27, Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols said. Her family owns a farm, The Wright Place, in Clinton.
Craig Gage, 23, of Saco, driving an Econoline van south, drifted onto the ice-covered right side of the road and then over-compensated to the left into the northbound lane, striking Wright’s 1999 Dodge minivan, according to Nichols. Wright couldn’t go off the road because of a guardrail, Nichols said.
“There’s nothing she could have done to have avoided the accident — she had nowhere to go,” Nichols said. “Between her lane and him coming at her and to her immediate right was a guardrail. She couldn’t have run off anywhere. She was hemmed in and it was just an awful circumstance to be in. She was killed instantly. It was pretty traumatic.”
On Tuesday, family members and friends said “Sammy” Wright was a loving, positive person and expressed sorrow for her husband and young daughter’s loss.
Former co-workers at a regional park in Skowhegan where she once worked recalled her wit and wisdom.
Family members declined to take calls Tuesday, but posted Monday night on Facebook: “It is with a sad and heavy heart that we announce the passing of one of our own, Samantha Wright.
“In her 38 years on this earth she lived more of a life than most people ever get to. She was a loving wife and mother and a wonderful school teacher. She was the kind of person that never met a stranger, very social, positive and upbeat. If you were lucky enough to have ever met Samantha, then you were lucky enough. Her smile lit up a room and her laughter was contagious. She will be missed by a great number of people.”
Wright was executive director and head teacher at Maine Mountain Children’s House, a nonprofit Montessori preschool program based in Kingfield.
The 2 p.m. accident, which happened south of the intersection with Holly Road, closed the state route for more than two hours.
Gage was treated and released within a couple hours of the accident with minor injuries, Nichols said. There were no passengers in either vehicle.
He said that section of Route 27 north of the accident scene is straight, flat and dry, but the road curves into an area that is shaded by trees and can be icy.
“If you’re somebody who’s not used to the road and you think it’s fine and you’re doing the normal speed limit then all of a sudden you hit that patch, you hit ice and even at the regular speed limit, you can lose control,” Nichols said.
Nichols said the accident investigator, Deputy Matthew Brann, is retracing Wright’s and Gage’s previous 24 hours, which is typical in a fatal accident.
Gage was driving a 2006 Ford E250 van owned by National Distributors Inc. of South Portland, Nichols said.
A former resident of South Carolina, Gage has been a driver for National Distributors since August 2012, according to his Facebook page.
Bob Hubbard, the original park ranger at Lake George Regional Park in Skowhegan and Canaan, recalled her fondly on Tuesday.
Hubbard hired Wright to work the gate at the park. Her father, Sam Wright, who’d retired from active dairy farming, already mowed lawns at the park as a volunteer.
“She was smart, quick, accurate and a very wise person — one of the best people that ever worked for me,” said Hubbard, who retired last year after 20 years at the park.
Looking over her Facebook page, Hubbard said, “All her pictures show that she was just beginning her personal life, building woodsheds, going hiking and pictures of kids — it just got cut right out from under her.”
Wright also studied at the Audubon Expedition Institute in Cambridge, Mass., in 2000, specializing in environmental science, Hubbard said.
Jeff McCabe, a Skowhegan state legislator and director of Lake George Regional Park, said he met Wright when he attended Unity College, where she studied for a semester.
He said members of the Wright family are frequent visitors to the park, where they go horseback riding and snow-shoeing. Wright’s niece, Caleigh Elizabeth Wright, was married at the park in September. The entire Wright family showed up, McCabe said, filling the park “with a lot of cowboy boots and pickup trucks.”
“Sam had a very outgoing personality, just a really nice person to be around, who has gone on to do some really great things starting that Montessori school,” McCabe said. “I interact often with the family members that are involved in the farm.”
The Wright Place Farm has 2,000 acres, 800 milking cows and about 700 young stock with 15 full-time and many seasonal employees. The farm was recognized as Farm of the Year in 2003.
Wright grew up in Clinton and was a 1993 graduate of Lawrence High School in Fairfield, according to her Facebook page. She later attended Northeast Montessori Institute in Wenham, Mass., and graduated from Endicott College in Beverly, Mass., in 2006 with a master’s degree in education and a concentration on Montessori schooling, a whole child method of teaching that emphasizes use of materials and activities specially designed to stimulate the intellect.
No one answered the phone Tuesday at Maine Mountain Children’s House, where she worked, and no one returned messages sent via Facebook.
A post by a woman named Bethany on the preschool’s Facebook page announced that there will be a gathering of school families and alumni Tuesday night.
“We would like to provide a time and space for us to come together as a school community to offer support to you and your children,” she wrote. “Feel free to bring in pictures and stories to share about Sam. So much love to you and yours.”
Friends on Facebook remembered Wright Tuesday as being the mother of a young girl, Penelope Quinn Wright Hodgins, who was born about a year ago. Andy was her husband.
She was remembered as someone with a bright, wonderful spirit.
“Awoke this morning with a very heavy heart, Samantha Wright. Saw that the sun was out, walked out on my deck, let the sun hit my cheeks, and cried thinking about you,” friend Chaney Fletcher wrote. “The wind started to cut through me and then I had to laugh thinking about what you might have said in response to me performing this act — I quickly ran back inside, grabbed my coffee and thought, again girl, you have made me smile.”