HIRAM — At one point, Alexia Valente worked two restaurant jobs while going to school, participating in sports and playing clarinet in the concert band at Sacopee Valley High School. She was determined and enthusiastic and wanted the people around her to be that way.
“You knew exactly where you stood with her,” said her mother, Sherry Valente. “If you needed it, she’d give you the shirt off her back. If she thought you were (deceiving) her, she’d say, ‘Go to work and get your own shirt.’ ”
Sherry Valente was surrounded by her family and close friends Thursday, sharing their grief at the home on River Road where her three daughters grew up, Alexia the youngest. Barely a couple miles down the road, a fresh wooden cross surrounded by bouquets marked the spot where the 16-year-old died when her car hit a tree Wednesday evening.
Alexia Valente was driving home from watching a school soccer game when she lost control of her 1998 Nissan Sentra at 7 p.m. Fresh skid marks on the narrow, bumpy road show where she struggled to correct the car’s path before it hit the tree on the driver’s side. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Her passengers, Christopher Eagles, 17, and Austin Lewis, 16, both of Baldwin, were taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland with injuries that were not life-threatening. Friends said they suffered back and head injuries.
Police blamed the crash on excessive speed. The speed limit on the road, which has very few houses on it, is 45 mph. Police said they will have to reconstruct the crash to determine how fast she was going.
There was no indication of texting or any other driving violation, police said.
Valente was a relatively inexperienced driver, having had her license for just seven months, and no one in the car was wearing their seat belt, police said.
It’s not apparent whether a seat belt would have saved Valente’s life, though seat belts do typically minimize injuries, said state police Lt. Walter Grzyb.
Sherry Valente was at home doing dishes Wednesday when she got the first call, from one of her daughter’s friends, saying there had been a crash on River Road. She didn’t think anything of it; there are always crashes.
Then, she and her husband, Steven Valente, got another call and realized it might be their daughter. They were climbing into their truck as police cars sped by the house.
When the family got to the crash site, the car’s driver’s side and their daughter were covered by a tarp. “It was better we were all together,” Sherry Valente said.
It was the third fatal crash on the same short stretch of road.
A cross still marks the spot, less than a tenth of a mile away, where Hayley Verrill, 17, of Porter died when her car crashed in 2006. Later that year, Iris George, 35, of Hiram died when her car collided with another car at the crest of a hill on the narrow road.
The road is marked in many places with wavy black lines showing where tires have skidded.
GRIEF FILLS TIGHT-KNIT SCHOOL
Students at Sacopee Valley High School tried to cope Thursday with the death of Valente, who was a junior.
“The thing that’s really hard for everyone, when a tragedy like this happens, is everyone saw her yesterday,” said Principal Britt Wolfe. “She was in class laughing and joking with her friends. She was at the big soccer game. … This morning, the chair is empty.”
Wolfe described Sacopee Valley High, which has 400 students, as a tight-knit community.
He said some students were dismissed from school Thursday because they were very upset, but most decided to stay because their friends were there. After an emergency staff meeting Thursday morning, the school district’s counselors gathered at the high school, as did many coaches, to help students deal with their grief, he said.
“She was a popular student. She was outgoing,” Wolfe said. “There are many friends who are really just kind of stunned by the loss today.”
Hundreds of students and other young people made a pilgrimage to the crash site during the day Thursday.
Andrew Morton, who graduated last year with a class of 80 students, described himself as a close friend of Valente.
“She was a very bubbly girl – positive, always smiling,” he said, looking away from the new cross planted alongside the road.
His aunt, Beth Sprague, wiping tears from her eyes, recalled that when her son was sick at Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland, Valente went with Andrew to visit him, even though she had never met him.
“It’s a huge loss, she said. “She touched a lot of people.”
Alicia Morton, another friend, said that when she learned about Valente’s death, she didn’t want to believe it.
“She was just beautiful all around,” she said. “She was the sunshine of the day.”
‘ALWAYS FULL OF ENERGY – PUMPED’
At the Valente home, family members infused their sense of loss with fond memories of a girl who was “one in a million.”
“She was very eager to take on the world,” said Ryan Hand, a brother-in-law.
“She was always full of energy – pumped,” said one of her sisters, Victoria Valente.
Alexia Valente was planning to go to college, but her mother expected she would return to her roots in this rural western Maine town, between the Ossipee and Saco rivers near the New Hampshire border.
She bagged her first deer last year, said her father, Steven Valente, his mouth clenching a cigar that had long since gone out. She started bird hunting with him this year and was looking forward to turkey season, he said. Last week, she got her first camouflage outfit.
Valente was an enthusiastic field hockey player. Her teammates wore ribbons Thursday bearing the number 2, her jersey number, family members said.
“She was really hoping to be captain of her field hockey team and they were going to hate her at the end of the year,” said her mother. “They were going to win states. She was going to work them ’til they puke.”
She had scolded her father for tossing out a bunch of old tires, because she had her eye on them as training aids.
“Maybe she was going to have them haul them up Pike Hill,” her mother said. “She was fired up and she made sure everybody else was pretty fired up too.”
David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: