CHINA — State police say a tractor-trailer may have been following too close to a van Wednesday morning on Route 3 when it collided with the van, sending it into the woods and trapping a woman inside for nearly an hour.

The woman, veterinarian Pamela Page, 49, of Palermo, was listed in critical condition late Wednesday afternoon at Maine Medical Center in Portland, where she was taken after the crash, which occurred around 8 a.m.

Page was driving west toward Augusta on Route 3 in a Chrysler Town & Country van when it slowed to make a left turn and the truck, also traveling west, swerved and struck the side of the van, according to Steve McCausland, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety.

Page was taken to MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta after the crash and then transferred to Maine Medical Center, McCausland said in a news release. Firefighters used extraction equipment to cut the doors off the van so Page could be removed from the vehicle, he said.

A hospital spokeswoman said at 4:10 p.m. that Page was in critical condition.

The truck, owned and operated by James Butler, 46, of Liberty, overturned in the road when it hit the van, spilling hundreds of sheets of plywood it was hauling, according to McCausland. Butler was not injured in the crash, he said.

Dan Nichols, first cousin of Page’s husband, Don Barrett, said in a phone interview late Wednesday afternoon that Page owns a veterinary practice in Palermo and works part time at Companion Animal Clinic in Augusta.

Nichols, who works in Augusta and spoke with Barrett after the crash, said Page, who was the lone occupant in the van, had dropped her young children, a boy and a girl, off at school sometime prior to the crash. He said no one knows if Page knew the truck was bearing down on her van so quickly before the crash.

“Her attention was focused on turning left,” Nichols said.

He said she suffered a lot of broken bones and cuts and possibly had internal injuries.

Barrett, a full-time farmer in Palermo, told Nichols he was going to pick up his children and head down to Portland to the hospital to be with his wife, according to Nichols.

“It’s sad because he has no family up here other than me. Both his parents are gone,” Nichols said. “It’s very, very sad.”

When Barrett arrived at the accident scene, emergency personnel asked him if there were children in the van when it crashed, as they saw two children’s car seats in the vehicle, according to Nichols. Barrett told them she had taken them to school, he said.

Nichols said his wife, Barbara, also was going to the Portland hospital to be with Page.

James Ritter, 46, of Searsmont, was on his way to Augusta when he came upon the accident Wednesday morning. Ritter said he did not see the crash happen, but the wheels on the tractor-trailer were still spinning even after he got out of his car.

“I, along with another motorist, ran to the minivan to be with and comfort the injured woman and to keep her still until medics arrived,” Ritter said. “We knew immediately she was trapped and she was in so much pain. Once medics arrived, we cleared out to give them room to do what they do best. I left the accident shortly after. It was truly a surreal experience, and I just can’t stop thinking about the injured woman and hope she’s OK.”

Ritter said that a few minutes after he and the other motorist stopped to help, another woman who had emergency medical technician skills but was not an official rescue worker came to help keep Page from moving.

“She didn’t want her to be able to move her neck,” Ritter said. “We just kept telling this poor woman that help was on the way and she was going to be OK.”

Ritter learned after the fact that the motorist who initially stopped with him to help is a new nurse who received her nursing degree a year ago and is the goddaughter of his co-worker.

A team of state troopers investigated the crash, and the road was closed at the crash site for more than four hours, until 12:30 p.m., when one lane was reopened, according to McCausland.

Work continued through the afternoon to remove the plywood and clean up about 60 gallons of diesel fuel that had spilled from the truck’s fuel tanks, he said.

A representative from the Kennebec County District Attorney’s Office went to the crash scene, but no decision has been made about whether charges might be filed, according to McCausland. That office will review the full crash report once it is completed, he said.

China firefighters went to the scene, where emergency workers were seen leading a man who was bleeding from the forehead to a waiting ambulance.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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