August 5, 2013

Truck driver says he fainted before he hit cyclists

David Labonte says a severe coughing attack led to the Biddeford crash, which left a Saco man and his son critically injured.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Police Monday said that a 15-month-old toddler remains in critical condition from a crash in which a pickup truck hit a family bicycling in Biddeford on Friday evening.

click image to enlarge

Rescuers attend to one of the victims at the scene of the crash in Biddeford on Friday. David LaBonte’s Ford F-150 truck is at left and one of the bicycles lies in the foreground.

Photo by Victor Dorais Jr.

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The 15-month-old, identified by police as Lavarice Elliott, was in critical condition as of 10 p.m. Sunday, police said in a statement Monday morning.

His father, Jamerico Elliott, 51, of Saco, also remains in critical condition. The baby’s mother, Melodie Brennan, 30, was treated for injuries and released from the hospital.

Police say the investigation into the cause of the crash will not be completed any time soon. The accident reconstruction process takes time, blood alcohol tests won’t be complete until at least the end of the week and police will be seeking a search warrant to obtain the “black box” from the vehicle which records the speed and other factors immediately before the crash, police said.

The driver of the pickup truck that struck the three bicyclists said in a telephone interview that he fainted just before he hit the riders.

"It's awful. It's a terrible feeling I have. It makes me sick to my stomach," David Labonte, 56, of Kennebunkport said Sunday night.

A man who witnessed part of the crash claims that Labonte must have been driving at least 55 mph to have caused the extent of damage that his truck inflicted on the bicyclists and a parked pickup truck.

Labonte said he suffers from asthma but is not being treated for the condition because he does not have health insurance. Labonte said he does not use an inhaler, which asthmatics use to clear their airways when they are experiencing respiratory distress.

Labonte said he had suffered through a severe coughing attack prior to the accident. He said he was feeling light-headed and dizzy minutes before he crossed the centerline of U.S. Route 1 and hit the bicyclists.

"I had a really bad coughing attack and I fainted," Labonte, a painting contractor, said Sunday night.

Labonte said he had worked on a job earlier in the day and had run a few errands and was on his way home when he passed out. Labonte declined to go into more details about the incident.

Biddeford police said Labonte's pickup truck, a blue Ford F-150, was headed north on Route 1 around 6 p.m. Friday when he crossed the centerline and entered the parking lot of the RepubliCash and Western Union store at 364 Elm St. Route 1 in Biddeford is also known as Elm Street.

Elliott, who was carrying his son in a bike seat, and Brennan were riding their bikes south on a sidewalk in front of the store when Labonte's truck struck them. Labonte's truck continued on, hitting a parked pickup truck with such force that a granite foundation was pushed into a nearby apartment building.

Three people, including a 3-year-old boy, were inside the parked pickup truck, but none of them was seriously injured.

Biddeford Deputy Police Chief JoAnne Fisk said police will seek a court order to look at the black box inside Labonte's truck. That box should be able to tell them how fast he was going. Fisk said the posted speed limit in that stretch of Route 1 is 35 mph.

Fisk said there were no tire marks on the street, an indication that Labonte did not use his brakes or did not hit them hard.

Labonte, whose truck has been impounded, was also given a blood-alcohol test, which is standard in accidents as severe as the one Friday evening. The results from that test probably won't be known for another week, Fisk said.

(Continued on page 2)

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