Riding their Honda Gold Wing motorcycles south from Oxford County on Sunday evening, the four couples were nearing the end of a 250-mile trip.

They had been to the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, often talking on their CB radios about the spectacular views. They had supper at a restaurant in Cornish and headed toward their respective homes in Sanford, Lebanon and Portsmouth, N.H.

Around 6 p.m. the lead rider, Bob Chevalier, saw a firetruck cresting a hill and rounding a corner on Newfield Road in Shapleigh. He saw the front right tire go off the road and into the soft sand. Then the truck veered back onto the asphalt, toward the yellow centerline.

Chevalier, a Sanford resident who has been riding motorcycles for 30 years and is an official with the state branch of the Gold Wing Road Riders Association, knew he and his friends were in trouble.

He quickly pressed a button on his CB radio.

“The truck is out of control, watch out,” he hollered.

Chevalier’s Gold Wing and the second in line, driven by Ron Seavey of Sanford, moved to the far right of their lane and passed the firetruck as it fishtailed.

“I was looking for headlights in my rearview mirror. I wanted to see my other riders,” Chevalier said Tuesday. Instead, he saw a whirlwind of dirt and gravel as the truck went airborne and rolled over.

Chevalier and his wife, Sheila, thought the couples on the two rear motorcycles had been killed.

But Bill Rondo of Lebanon had sped up his bike and veered to the right. Paul Cardinal of Portsmouth had driven his Gold Wing off the road and into the deep sand of the soft shoulder. Both had barely avoided the truck.

And the driver of that truck, Shapleigh Fire Capt. Natasha Kinney, had somehow controlled the tanker-pumper – loaded with 1,800 gallons of water – just enough to miss the motorcycles.

“A lot of people, they hit that shoulder and that’s it. They give up and their vehicles go out of control and roll over,” Chevalier said. “She stayed with it, trying to get control. She did a great job of trying to keep it on her side.”

On Tuesday, as Kinney continued to recover at home from minor injuries and Maine State Police investigated the accident, the motorcycle riders said Kinney’s effort and their own adherence to safe riding principles helped prevent a fatality.

“Safety training is drummed into us every meeting, every month,” Sheila Chevalier said.

The couples are members of Chapter A of the Gold Wing Road Riders Association, one of four chapters across Maine. The Chevaliers are the chapter directors. Through the association, Gold Wing riders take trips, hold meetings and participate in other social events. Safety training is part of the group’s mission.

Just two weeks ago, the couples participated in an accident training exercise during a rally in Gorham, N.H., Sheila Chevalier said.

The exercise featured rescue crews from Gorham and a LifeFlight helicopter, just like the one that took Kinney to Maine Medical Center in Portland on Sunday.

That exercise helped the group react swiftly after the truck flipped, she said. One rider called 911 while others stopped traffic at the crest of the hill, preventing a follow-up accident. Chevalier went to the window of the firetruck and stayed with Kinney, who was trapped inside.

“We knew what to do and that is exactly what we did,” Chevalier said.

Rescue crews used heavy equipment to free Kinney, who escaped with cuts and bruises.

Shapleigh has a call fire department, meaning volunteers who often have other jobs are paid only for the time they spend responding. The 2005 truck, which was destroyed, is insured by the town.

Kinney had left the scene of a dryer fire on Ross Corner Road at 5 p.m. and was headed to refuel the truck when the accident happened. Her chief said she has an unblemished driving record.

She declined to be interviewed Tuesday. On Monday, Kinney was interviewed by a reporter from WGME-TV. She said she wasn’t sure when she would resume her duties with the fire department. Kinney said she was “petrified” while she was pinned in the truck.

“You know they’re coming to help you, but you can’t do anything, you feel helpless,” she said. “You can’t get out and the only thing you have to talk to is a voice, ’cause all you’re looking at is gravel and you’re in pain.”

State Police Trooper Dan Worcester said the results of the accident reconstruction might not be available until next week. Investigators will try to determine how fast the firetruck was going before the crash, he said. The posted speed limit there is 45 mph. Worcester said he has not had a chance to visit with Kinney, but he plans to do that soon.

 

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at: [email protected]