Driver killed in crash with Cornwall fire truck on Route 125
CORNWALL — Area residents were voicing shock Monday morning in the wake of Sunday afternoon’s frightful collision between a pickup truck and Cornwall Fire Department utility vehicle on Route 125 that took the life of 44-year-old Deane Rubright of Shoreham.
In addition to the tragic loss of life, the accident has left Cornwall Volunteer Fire Department members shaken and temporarily without a utility vehicle, which was used to carry all the force’s equipment to the many fire and accident scenes it responds to each year.
The accident occurred near a curvy incline on Route 125 near Cider Mill Road in Cornwall at around 3:45 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 9, while Cornwall firefighters were responding to a mutual aid request from neighboring Middlebury, according to Cornwall Fire Chief Dennis Rheaume.
Vermont State Police Trooper Adria Pickin’s preliminary investigation indicates Rubright was travelling west on Route 125 “at a high rate of speed” when he encountered an eastbound CVFD utility truck driven by firefighter Thomas Frankovic, 45, of Cornwall. Pickin estimated the utility truck’s speed at around 50 miles per hour, with its lights and siren activated.
The utility truck was trailing Cornwall’s fire truck on its way to a report of smoke in Middlebury College’s Proctor Hall, according to Rheaume.
Pickin said evidence thus far shows that “after cresting a hill and seeing other vehicles stopped in the westbound lane of travel for the oncoming fire truck, Rubright applied his brakes and proceeded to cross the centerline into the eastbound lane of travel, colliding with Frankovic.”
Both vehicles were totaled as a result of the crash and Rubright died at the scene, according to Pickin.
“I’ve been to a lot of accidents in my time and I’ve never seen a vehicle ripped apart like that,” Rheaume said of Rubright’s pickup, a 1964 Chevrolet.
The 2013 Freightliner utility vehicle ended up off the road and slammed into a pine tree, officials said.
Rheaume believes both drivers did what they could to avoid each other. But the topography and the speed at which the vehicles were driving were big contributing factors to the crash, officials believe at this time.
The accident remains under investigation, according to Pickin.
Rubright was recalled as a very gregarious and generous man who volunteered for many causes in Shoreham and around Addison County. He was a property manager and member of the Rubright family that has for many years owned and operated Middlebury Bagel & Deli.
He leaves a son and a stepdaughter.
The Independent interviewed Rheaume shortly before his planned meeting with Frankovic, who was physically uninjured but understandably very upset about the accident.
Emergency responders — much like the families of victims — must deal as best they can with the aftermath of such tragedies.
“Physically, he’s fine,” Rheaume said. “But as they say, ‘If my mind could only forget what my eyes have seen.’”
It will largely be up to Frankovic — who’s been with the department around five years — to decide when he’s ready to resume his firefighting duties, according to Rheaume. The CVFD has approximately 20 members and is — like most volunteer fire departments in the state — short on members.
“Obviously, we’ll make sure to watch him like a hawk to make sure everything’s good with him,” Rheaume said. “He’ll probably not want to drive a vehicle for a while; we’ll play it by ear.”
At the same time, CVFD leaders are scrambling to secure a replacement utility vehicle. Rheaume on Monday was discussing the possibility of borrowing an out-of-service utility vehicle from the Bristol Fire Department. Rheaume is also preparing an insurance claim to recoup on the loss of the 2013 vehicle. The department will also sort out what items aboard the truck can no longer be used because they were either damaged in the crash or covered with diesel fuel. The CVFD will also have to re-test the air packs that were aboard the utility vehicle.
Vermont State Police were assisted at the crash site by the Middlebury Police Department, Middlebury Regional EMS, Middlebury Heavy Rescue, the Middlebury Fire Department, Bristol Rescue Squad and the Cornwall Fire Department.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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