July Fourth crash victim dies, investigation continues

State Police are investigating whether the placement of the steering wheel on the right side of the Jeep played a role in the accident. — Photo by Steve Myrick

A Fourth of July outing for a New Hampshire family with strong Martha’s Vineyard ties and their guest, a 21-year-old college student, turned tragic on a day when most residents and visitors were enjoying hot, steamy weather and looking forward to holiday activities.

Heather LaFlamme of Berlin, New Hampshire, died Saturday at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston from injuries sustained in a two-car crash last Wednesday afternoon.

Ms. LaFlamme was a rear seat passenger in a 2012 Jeep Wrangler that was broadsided by a 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan on Barnes Road near the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Business Park about 2 pm.

She was traveling with her boyfriend, Seth Jones, 26, also seated in the rear, and his parents Thomas C, Jones, 51, and Margaret Jones, 51, all of Dummer, New Hampshire.

Ms. LaFlamme, Seth Jones and Margaret Jones were transferred by MedFlight from Martha’s Vineyard Hospital to Boston-area hospitals with serious injuries following the crash.

Seth Jones remains at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. A spokesman said Wednesday his condition had changed from critical to serious.

Margaret Jones also remains at Beth Israel. Her condition was listed as good.

The Jeep’s driver, Thomas Jones, was transported by ambulance to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and released on Sunday.

The operator of the Tiguan sport utility vehicle, Benjamin T. Johnson, 19, of Cambridge, was transported to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital for evaluation of possible injuries and released.

Massachusetts State Police from the Oak Bluffs Barracks, the State Police Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Section, and the Cape and Islands District Attorney’s Office are investigating to determine whether criminal charges and civil motor vehicle citations are warranted, police said.

Yesterday, police had no updates. Assistant district attorney Michael Trudeau said his office was waiting for the police reports. Once those were completed, he said, they would be assessed and with respect to any charges.

State Police said that a preliminary investigation indicates that the Jeep — a model that has its steering wheel on the right side — was traveling northbound on Barnes Road when it pulled onto the right shoulder of the road.

“The Jeep then began to turn left, beginning an apparent U-turn. At that time, it was broadsided by the front of the Tiguan, which was also traveling northbound on Barnes Road. The collision caused the Jeep to roll over and the Tiguan to veer off the left side of the road.”

The accident occurred just north of the entrance to the Mobil Gas Station at the entrance to the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Business Park just about the time parade-goers were making their way to Edgartown. Police closed off the road between the Blinker intersection and the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road until the evening. Most of that section of roadway, also known as Airport Road, is flat and straight and has a posted speed limit of 45 miles per hour.

As police and rescue personnel arrived they attended to the injured. Rescuers needed special equipment to extricate Mrs. Jones from the Jeep.

Like an explosion

Thomas Jones met his wife Margaret, the daughter of Frank Vieara of Edgartown, on Martha’s Vineyard, where his family had vacationed when he was young. Their son Seth was born on the Island.

“We had rented a house in Island Grove and arrived Saturday,” Don Antonelli of Warwick, Rhode Island, the brother-in-law of Mr. Jones, told The Times in a telephone conversation Monday. Seth had invited his girlfriend, Ms. LaFlamme, a dean’s list student entering her senior year at the University of New Hampshire, to join the family on their annual summer trip to the Vineyard.

Mr. Jones and his son share a military bond. Mr. Jones served in the Army, his son served in the Marines. Following his discharge, Seth, who served two tours in Iraq and one tour in Afghanistan, went to school to learn welding. He currently works as a welder at the Portsmouth Naval shipyard, his uncle said.

The day began normally. “We found out that they (Mr. Jones and Seth) had their names engraved on a veterans’ memorial in Vineyard Haven,” Mr. Antonelli said. “So we were taking a ride to check it out.”

Mr. Jones lead the way in the Jeep. Mr. Antonelli, his wife, Linda, the sister of Margaret Jones, and his nephew Alex Jones, 19, Seth’s younger brother, and a friend followed in another vehicle. They stopped to get gas at the Mobil gas station.

Tom Jones pulled out in the Jeep and took a left toward Vineyard Haven. Mr. Antonelli said his wife waited to pull out as the VW sped by. “We pulled out to follow Peggy and Tom and as we pulled out it was like there was an explosion. The kid hit them and the Jeep was slipping and spinning in the air.”

Life changing

“I went directly to Seth because that was the first person I saw laying on the ground,” Mr. Antonelli said. “I didn’t know how bad of shape he was in, I’m not medically trained, but I knew to try and keep him conscious. So I was yelling at him, but he was bleeding from the mouth and his eyes kept rolling back in his head more and more. And there was another man with me and we were trying to call the police and neither of us knew what to do, but then this woman just showed up and knelt down next to me.”

The woman was Dr. Deborah E. Rudin. She instructed Mr. Antonelli on how to keep his nephew conscious by rubbing a knuckle into his chest.

Dr. Rudin, a specialist in infectious diseases associated with NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia Hospital, and her husband, Steve Verp, were in a taxi on their way to catch a plane back to New York following a brief holiday visit when they arrived just moments after the accident and saw crumpled vehicles, strewn car parts, and the injured passengers on the ground.

“As we pulled up there was really nobody there except the brother-in-law,” Ms. Rudin told The Times in a telephone call Monday. “The driver of the black Tiguan had gotten out of the car and was just hysterical. He was pulling his shirt up over his head and covering his head and screaming.”

Dr. Rudin ran over to the first injured person she saw, Seth Jones. She began checking his vital signs. “I just kept calling him buddy and told the guy who was there to rub his sternum, which is a technique we use in the emergency room, just trying to keep him as awake as you can. And to keep his hand on his carotid pulse and shout out if he lost the pulse because then we would have to do CPR. And at that moment someone else who was a non-medical person said, ‘I think there’s someone in the woods.'”

Dr. Rudin was the first person at the side of Ms. LaFlamme, who lay crumpled in the woods, after being ejected from the Jeep. Dr. Rudin said it was immediately obvious that the young woman’s injuries were severe. She did her best to assist Ms. LaFlamme.

“It seemed like forever, but it was probably five minutes before EMTs got there,” Dr. Rudin said. She began shouting her medical assessments of Seth Jones and Ms. LaFlamme to EMTs. It was, she said, as if she were in an emergency room setting.

Dr. Rudin, 50, identified herself as a doctor. She said the EMTs provided her with gloves and were very responsive to everything she said. “I guess people just help each other when it’s a major emergency,” she said.

Dr. Rudin said she has experienced the worst trauma one can encounter in a New York City emergency room or critical care setting. But 24 hours later and home in New Jersey she said she was struck by the sadness of the accident. “She’s 21 years old,” she said of Ms. LaFlamme.

Dr. Rudin said she and her husband had gone away for four days. They had a plane to catch. “For 30 seconds I thought, oh my God I’m going to miss my plane and then I thought, there’ll be another plane, this person could die,” she said. “That’s what happened and I jumped out.”

Until he was contacted by The Times, Mr. Antonelli did not know who Dr. Rudin was or that she was even a doctor. “She changed my life,” Mr. Antonelli said. “I’m the type of person, I mind my own business and don’t help people. Now, I’ll never drive by an accident again if there’re no paramedics or anything there. As soon as we’re done spending time at the hospital the first thing me and Linda are going to do is take a first aid course so we know how to help people.”

Mr. Antonelli described the Island response, from the accident scene to the hospital, as “incredible.” He said his family is grateful for the care and kindness.

Ms. LaFlamme was majoring in recreational management policy and was completing an internship at Mountain View Grand Resort in Whitefield, N.H., at the time of her death. A funeral service is scheduled for Saturday, July 14, at St. Anne Church of Good Shepherd Parish in Berlin.

Arrangements are under the care of the Fleury-Patry Funeral Home (fleury-patry.com).