[Story originally posted at 4:29 p.m. Updated at 5:02 p.m.]
Hampton police have determined that the fatal accident that
claimed the lives of two cyclists on the Neil R. Underwood Memorial Bridge on Saturday was caused by the driver of a vehicle that crossed over the center line and struck four bicyclists.
Deputy Police Chief Rich Sawyer told Patch that a vehicle operated by Darriean Hess, 20, of Seabrook, was traveling southbound over the bridge on Route 1A when for unknown reasons her vehicle "veered over into the northbound lane" around 8:30 a.m. and struck four bicyclists who were riding north over the bridge as part of a non-competitive riding event.
After striking the cyclists, Sawyer said Hess' vehicle "road along" various structures, curbing and sidewalk on the bridge "for a distance" before it "popped back onto the road," "crossed back over" into the southbound lane, and "hit several road signs." The vehicle came to a stop after it "decimated" the "Welcome to Seabrook Beach" sign, according to Sawyer.
No charges were issued as of Saturday afternoon, as police are still "collecting evidence" and conducting interviews with witnesses at the scene, according to Sawyer.
"The reason she crossed over is something we still haven't determined," said Sawyer.
Pamela Wells, 60, of South Hamilton, Mass., and Elise Bouchard, 52, of Danvers, Mass., were pronounced dead at Exeter and Portsmouth Regional hospitals, respectfully, after sustaining serious injuries in the crash.
Uwe Uhmeyer, 60, of Essex, Mass., and Margo Heigh, 54, of Danvers, Mass., were hospitalized at Portsmouth Regional and Anna Jaques hospitals, respectively, with non-life-threatening injuries sustained in the crash.
Hess was transported to Portsmouth Regional Hospital for "minor injuries," according to Sawyer.
The cyclists were participating in the
40th annual Granite State Wheelmen Tri-State Seacoast Century Ride, which started at Hampton's South Beach at 7 a.m. and continued through the Seacoast area.
Sawyer said bicycle traffic was "heavy all morning" and "heavier than vehicle traffic" due to the event. Sawyer said he saw "quite a few [bicyclists] going both ways" over the bridge not long before the crash.
Local police often receive complaints from motorists about bicycles riding two- or three-abrest on Seacoast roads, and police often receive complaints from bicyclists about motorists not using caution and not sharing the roadway, according to Sawyer.
Neither of those scenarios played a role in Saturday's crash, however.
"While I understand people get upset [because of those scenarios]... we
don’t have any indication that has any relevance to this accident today," said Sawyer, who said his department is working to determine whether the bicyclists were riding in a single-file line or another formation. "[The bicyclists' riding patten] really is not a relevant fact other than that we’re trying to place where the
bicycles were when the vehicle struck them."
The bridge and a surrounding portion of Ocean Boulevard/Route 1A was closed until 2 p.m. Saturday due to the accident. Traffic was detoured around the area using neighboring streets during that time.
A bicyclist participating in the same event reportedly suffered injuries Saturday morning during a crash in Rye, although details about that incident weren't immediately available. Sawyer said no other calls involving bicyclists were reported Saturday morning.
Numerous agencies provided assistance during the incident, including the Hampton, North Hampton, Seabrook and Rye fire departments, as well as the Seabrook Police Department and the New Hampshire State Police.