March 10, 2010

Young boy hit by truck at controversial swimming spot

DENNIS HOEY

— By

click image to enlarge

Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette, Friday, July 14, 2006: A group of kids cross the Saco River on the Route 202 bridge from Hollis to Buxton Friday afternoon. Police are concerned that the someone may get hit by a vehicle on the narrow bridge. salmon falls bridge

Staff Writer

A 12-year-old boy was in critical condition Tuesday night after being hit by a pickup truck on the Salmon Falls Bridge over the Saco River, at the site of one of southern Maine's most popular -- and controversial -- swimming holes.

The accident forced police to shut down Route 202 in Buxton and Hollis -- traffic had to be diverted onto Route 4A -- for more than three hours Tuesday afternoon. Route 202 reopened around 6:30 p.m.

Young people from across the region come to the Salmon Falls Bridge on a hot summer's day to take the 25-foot plunge into the cool waters of the Saco below. That is what Jack Vincent was attempting to do when he was hit by the truck, said York County Sheriff Maurice Ouellette.

The sheriff said the Cumberland County boy was sprinting from one side of the bridge to the other in an attempt to get a running start before leaping off the concrete railings. He waited for a tractor-trailer to pass, but did not see a pickup truck approaching in the opposite lane.

The impact from the collision threw the boy into the windshield of the pickup. He was in critical condition at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

Ouellette said the boy's father, Chris Vincent, drove his son to the bridge and was nearby when the accident happened.

The pickup truck was driven by 22-year-old Greg Harriman of Waterboro.

''We have been called there hundreds of times, and we've issued a lot of summonses'' for jumping off the bridge, Ouellette said. ''People come from all over the state.''

The state-owned bridge, which was built in 1948, has signs posted that indicate jumping is prohibited. But Ouellette said his officers have stopped issuing summonses because the York County District Attorney's Office has told him that it won't prosecute the young jumpers for criminal trespassing.

Also, when officers arrive at the bridge, which straddles the Buxton-Hollis town lines, most children dive into the river to avoid being caught.

The result has been predictable, Ouellette said. Dozens of youngsters gather on the bridge during the summer months. Most dive off the bridge's concrete rails, while others run across its two-lane deck before leaping.

A 2006 article in the Press Herald indicated that local and county police had seen an increase in traffic and in the number of youngsters jumping off the bridge. At the time, they called it a dangerous mix.

In that same article, Ouellette was quoted as saying, ''One of these days, somebody is going to get hurt really badly.''

The Salmon Falls library in Hollis is about 100 feet from the bridge. Patrons and swimmers park their cars in the library lot. There is no parking allowed on the Buxton side of the bridge.

''When people walk to the library, they really don't walk. They wait for traffic to pass and then they hoof it across (the bridge),'' said Ben Severance, a Hollis selectman who has lived in the town since 1970.

A few years ago, officials from the towns and the Maine Department of Transportation met to discuss possible solutions. They ranged from installing a pedestrian path on the side of the bridge to erecting a fence high enough to discourage jumping, but none of those proposals has been implemented.

In 2006, the state said the bridge was structurally sound and was not on its list of repair projects.

''Money is not going to solve the issue. People have always jumped off that old bridge and always will,'' Severance said. ''My father and my uncles have done it. It's a rite of passage.''

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

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