October 18, 2013

Grief envelops Maine town after young life lost

Alexia Valente, 16, an energetic student-athlete who was ‘eager to take on the world,’ dies when her car hits a tree.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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.

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Alexia Valente

Contributed photo

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Sacopee Valley High School senior Steve Nieves and his friend Ellie Mikrut visit the site where 16-year-old Alexia Valente’s car left River Road in Hiram and hit a tree Wednesday evening. Alexia was heading home from a school soccer game when the accident occurred. Both of her passengers were injured and hospitalized.

John Patriquin/StaffPhotographer

Additional Photos Below

“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.

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Additional Photos

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Hundreds of students and other young people made a pilgrimage Thursday to the site where Alexia Valente’s car crashed off River Road in Hiram. “She was a popular student. ... There are many friends who are really just kind of stunned by the loss,” said Sacopee Valley High Principal Britt Wolfe.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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