Wednesday, December 4, 2013
BERWICK — A special-education teacher who was described as patient, intelligent and compassionate died Wednesday in a head-on crash that also injured her two young children.
A Facebook photo of Amy Harris.
An accident reconstruction team examines the scene of a fatal crash on Route 4 in Berwick on Wednesday.
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer
Amy Harris, 34, was driving north on Route 4 at 8 a.m., when she collided with a southbound sport utility vehicle that had crossed into the northbound lane, police said.
The SUV was driven by a 17-year-old Biddeford boy who was on his way to school at Berwick Academy.
Harris' 7-year-old son, Lucas, was taken to Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover, N.H., then flown by medical helicopter to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
His sister Abbie, 4, also was taken to Wentworth-Douglass, though a spokeswoman said later Wednesday that the hospital had no patient by that name.
The Biddeford boy was expected to be released today from Wentworth-Douglass, said police, who withheld his name, citing the ongoing investigation.
Harris taught for three years at the Vivian E. Hussey School in Berwick, working with children in elementary school who have extensive special needs.
"She was an amazing teacher," said Rebecca Niebling, a longtime family friend. "She was very thoughtful, friendly, intelligent. She was a really beautiful person."
Harris had close bonds with the school district. She graduated from Noble High School in 1997, and her stepfather, Jon Appleby, teaches at the high school. Her son is a second-grader at the Hussey school.
After high school, Harris studied education and sociology at Simmons College in Boston, graduating in 2001. She worked as a teacher at Waban Projects, which serves developmentally disabled children.
Steven Connolly, superintendent of School Administrative District 60, said her colleagues were pleased that Harris opted to return to the school system where she was educated.
Speaking of the crash, he said, "Beyond the obvious impact to the students in the classroom and her colleagues, we're also talking about a Berwick family."
The school district posted the news of Harris' death on its website and announced that the Hussey school and the Eric L. Knowlton School will be closed today. Crisis counselors from the Center for Grieving Children will be available at the Hussey school from 9 to 11 a.m. for students, parents and the school's staff.
Harris' father owns a local landscaping company, and her mother owns a garden shop. Her husband, Sam, met with police briefly at midday Wednesday before going to be with the children.
Berwick police Capt. Jerry Locke said police do not know yet what caused the teenager to cross the center line into oncoming traffic. They spoke with him briefly, but he needed medical attention. They hope to speak with him at the police station today.
Locke said blood samples were taken from both drivers to test for alcohol and drugs, as required after any serious crash.
Police will look into whether cellphones were being used at the time of the crash, but getting access to that information can require subpoenas, Locke said.
"We know the vehicle was in the wrong lane but we don't know why," he said.
The crash happened in the middle of a long straight section of Route 4, just before the South Berwick town line, where the speed limit is 55 mph. The teenager was not passing anyone, Locke said.
Police have interviewed people who saw the crash. One was driving the car right in front of Harris and swerved off the road to avoid a collision with the southbound Saturn Vue, police said.
The car's tracks through soft turf just off the road showed how the driver swerved off the shoulder, narrowly missed a utility pole and then pulled back onto the roadway.
The last-second maneuver likely left little time for Harris to react. The front of the tan Ford Freestar she was driving was crushed. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Both drivers were wearing seat belts. The 4-year-old was in a car seat and the 7-year-old was in a booster seat, police said. The extent of the children's injuries was not clear Wednesday night.
A spokeswoman for Massachusetts General Hospital said there was no record of Lucas Harris being there.
Berwick Academy's head of school, Gregory Schneider, met with the Biddeford boy's family but declined to comment on the student's condition. He did email a brief statement regarding the crash.
"On behalf of the entire Berwick Academy community, our thoughts and prayers are with all of those who were impacted by this tragic accident today," Schneider said.
Route 4 was closed for six hours while investigators worked to reconstruct what happened and gather evidence.
Anyone who saw the accident or either vehicle immediately beforehand is asked to call Detective Bill Russell at 698-1136.
David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:
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This is one of the vehicles involved in a fatal crash on Route 4 in Berwick on Wednesday.
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer