'It Was Dead Quiet, so I Thought I Was dead,' Says Woman In Fatal Accident On I-95
New London — In pain and still confined to a bed Sunday at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital with cracked vertebrae and an injured foot, Samirah Clough of Mystic could only express her gratitude, over and over.
“I'm one lucky lady,” she said. “I'm so happy to be alive.”
Clough, 62, was one of the people who survived Friday morning's horrific accident near Exit 75 on Interstate 95 in East Lyme that killed three people and injured her and two others.
Clough, a teacher at West Side Middle School in Groton, got a ride Friday morning from her friend and fellow teacher, Lynn Mariani of Stonington, to a reading workshop in Cromwell.
Mariani agreed to wait an hour for Clough, who had to call her dentist about a sore tooth, and to drive her Audi because of Clough's pain. The two friends chatted as they traveled along the southbound lanes of Interstate 95.
“I said, 'Uh oh, something is wrong with that truck,' ” Clough said. “Because he was coming towards us.”
At 10:19 a.m., just before Exit 75, a tanker truck traveling north on the highway drove through the center barrier and into oncoming traffic, striking a southbound tractor-trailer truck and four cars.
The next thing Clough knew, she couldn't hear or see anything.
“It was dead quiet,” Clough said. “So I thought I was dead.”
She even had a vision of her father, who died in a car accident 40 years ago, wearing the same clothes he had on when she last saw him.
Then she moved.
“I wiggled my hands. They wiggled. I wiggled my feet, and they wiggled. I thought, 'Oh my god I'm alive. I gotta get out of here.' ”
She tried to get out but her seatbelt was stuck and the door wouldn't open because something was on top of it. She was later told that thing was a tractor-trailer truck.
She crawled to the driver's seat, which was empty. Then she heard Mariani come back with “a good Samaritan,” who carried her out of the car. She was shoeless and soaked in diesel fuel.
“He shielded my eyes. He didn't want me to see,” said Clough, who hopes to learn the stranger's identity.
“I was at peace. I was not scared,” she said.
Mariani's family stayed with her in the hospital until her husband, Douglas, could be reached at Electric Boat. Mariani, she said, saved her life, simply by taking her car, stronger than Clough's Mazda Protégé, and for being a good driver. Mariani was not available for comment Sunday at her home where she is recovering from her injuries.
Now, Clough is in a body brace, which means she will have to forgo yoga and running for an extended time period. She is also sad to miss teaching her students.
“I'm so full of thanks, love for human beings, for everyone that helped me...my doctors, my family, and my school,” she said.
Across the state Sunday at Baker's Bar and Grille in Milford, Pat Austin said his fellow bartender Fred Held would have been there getting ready to watch the Patriots-Colts game with the other regulars. But, instead, the patrons at Bakers were preparing to attend Held's wake today.
Held, who was driving home from the Mohegan Sun casino, where he had spent the night, was one of those killed in the crash. His car was one of those that crashed into the tanker truck and tractor-trailer that had collided just in front of him.
The 33-year-old Milford native was married and also worked as a mortgage broker. Austin said Held had worked at the bar for the past six or seven years and organized the tavern's softball team. He said Held loved just about every sport, especially his beloved New York Mets and the UConn men's and women's basketball teams.
“He was a real good guy. Everybody loved him. He's going to be missed by a lot of people,” Austin said. “He was a fun-loving guy. Just 33 years old. You don't think someone that young is going to die,” he said,
Austin said Held didn't live far from the bar and would have come in Sunday morning to discuss the afternoon's football games over a cup of coffee. He'd then be back to watch them.
“We all miss him a lot already,” Austin said.
Also killed in the crash was Lu-Ann Dugas, 54, of East Lyme, who was in another car, and Peter M. Derry III, 51, of Webster, Mass. Derry was driving the tanker truck that police say crossed from the northbound lanes to the southbound lanes where it struck a tractor-trailer driven by James J. Clark of Patchogue, N.Y.
Clark was treated for his injuries and released from The William W. Backus Hospital and could not be reached for comment Sunday. Neither could John Hampton, 43, of Old Lyme, who was not injured even though his car was destroyed.
While eyewitnesses driving near the tanker truck just before the accident said it appeared the tanker and another tractor-trailer were aggressively changing lanes and passing each other, state police spokesman, Lt. J. Paul Vance said Sunday that no other tractor-trailer was involved in the accident.
Vance also said Sunday night that the cameras along the highway that allow the state transportation department to view traffic flow do not make recordings. There is a camera in the area of the accident.
State police continue to investigate the cause of the accident. Vance said an accident reconstruction squad from Troop E and appropriate state police specialists investigation would conduct the investigation. The specialists could include the truck enforcement unit and the major crimes squad for background checks.
Vance said all repairs were done to the road Friday night, including the replacement of contaminated soil in the median and the repairs to guardrails.
The state Department of Environmental Protection did a small amount of work Sunday, removing some soil to allow the Department of Transportation to repair a guardrail, a spokesman said. The rest of the soil work will take place during low traffic times, he said.
Latimer Brook, which was contaminated by some of the 9,000 gallons of diesel fuel that spilled in the accident, still contains booms for gathering the fuel.
Day Staff Writer Chuck Potter contributed to this report