NEWBURYPORT — A 35-year-old Newburyport man sustained life-threatening injuries and another man was killed in a multi-car crash on Interstate 495 south in Methuen yesterday afternoon.
Jeffrey Plante was flown to Boston Medical Center by medical helicopter and his prognosis was not known last night by press time, according to state police.
According to preliminary reports by trooper Michael Cogan of the Andover barracks, Plante was driving a 2005 black Toyota Corolla northbound on I-495 when, for reasons yet known, his car left the road, hit the dirt median and went airborne.
Plante's vehicle collided head-on with a 2008 blue Toyota Camry headed south and driven by Kurt Kelly, 32, of Westford, who was pronounced dead at the scene.
The 3:30 p.m. accident, which occurred before the ramp to Route 213 west, shut down I-495 in both directions and led to major gridlock and traffic delays for miles. Commuter traffic was severely impacted, with motorists rerouted off Route 110 in Lawrence and the southbound side of I-495 closed down at the Ward Hill exit in Bradford.
Initial speculation that a tractor-trailer was involved in the crash was incorrect, state police said. The tractor-trailer stopped prior to the crash and provided witness information.
Two other vehicles, a Cayenne GTS and a black Equinox, were damaged in the crash, but their operators did not sustain any injuries and did not contribute to the initial crash, police said.
At the request of the state police, four huge flatbed trucks from Trombly Bros. of North Andover were positioned to shield passing motorists from seeing the gruesome scene. As the four heavily damaged cars were pulled onto the flatbeds, an investigator with the state police collision analysis team ordered Trombly's workers not to try starting the vehicles. He needed to have the data in their black boxes preserved, he said.
While the cause of the crash remains under investigation, alcohol does not appear to be a factor, police said. Joining Troop A of the state police in investigating are the Collision Reconstruction and Analysis Section, Crime Scene Photo and troopers assigned to the Essex County District Attorney's Office.
State police closed the northbound and southbound sides of the highway for approximately 45 minutes so a medical helicopter could land and take off. I-495 south remained closed for approximately 3 1/2 hours to allow for rescue operations, gathering of evidence and cleanup of the crash.
Route 113 in Haverhill and Methuen was choked with cars detoured from the highway. Vehicles on I-495 south, including truckers with deliveries to make, were stranded for two hours.
State police and Massachusetts Department of Transportation workers freed up the traffic jam by routing vehicles across the median strip and over to the northbound side. Even two double trailers carrying cars were able to make the U-turn.
All lanes of I-495 were re-opened by 7 p.m.
Miguel Duk, of North Carolina, was driving his tractor-trailer on I-495 south during the accident. He said he felt more sadness over the young man's death than frustration at being stuck on the highway for well over an hour.
"You can replace property, but not a life," he said.