Tragedy struck earlier this week, when a Massachusetts’ woman drove the wrong way on Interstate 495 in Middleborough, killing four college students. The four students who were killed were later identified by Massachusetts’ state police as Kraig A. Diggs, 20, Jordan J. Galvin-Jutras, 19, Jordan J. Fisher, 19, and Cory P. Licata, 18. The female driver, Valantein V. Burson, 31, was also killed in the accident.
On Monday, October 24, 2016, at approximately 12: 11 A.M., Burson, a Stoughton native who counseled troubled teens, was driving her 2011 Infiniti G7, south in the northbound lanes of Interstate 495. She then slammed into a 2003 Mercury sable sedan carrying the four students who were on their way back their Worcester-area colleges. As a result of the impact between the two vehicles, the teen’s vehicle burst into flames. All four students were pronounced dead at the scene.
Following the tragic wrong-way collision, State Police Major Anthony Thomas stated “it was a horrific scene” during a news conference at the Middleborough barracks. Middleborough Fire Chief Lance Benjamino also described the scene as a “big ball of fire.”
Burson was living in Fall River, Massachusetts at the time of the accident. Friends and family state that she was working her dream job with prisoners at the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater. She had both undergraduate and graduate degrees in psychology, and planned to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology.
School officials at Anna Maria College, where Diggs and Galvin-Jutras were students, and Becker College, where Fisher and Licata were students, have made grief counselors available. Diggs was studying business and Galvin-Jutras was enrolled in the fire science program. Fisher began studying business administration this past fall and Licata had just moved to Massachusetts from Islip, New York to study interactive media.
At this time, it is still unclear where Burson was headed prior to the collision. According to initial reports, Burson had been ticketed five times for speeding over the past 11 years. It does not appear that any crashes were listed in her driving history since 2004.
Investigators are currently conducting toxicology tests to determine whether drugs or alcohol were involved. They also plan to see if the car that she was driving contained a device that records crash information. However, they would have to first determine if the device was installed in the Infiniti and if it was, it may have been destroyed by the crash.
Unfortunately, motor vehicle accidents are all too common in Massachusetts. For example, in 2012, Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security determined that there were 108,379 crashes, which resulted in 349 fatalities and 4,384 serious injuries. While wrong-way collisions are considered to be rare among motor vehicle accidents, they are particularly dangerous and may often be deadly. In this past month alone, there have been two local deadly wrong-way collision. Earlier in October, five Vermont high school students were killed in a crash that involved a wrong-way driver on Interstate 89.
Many wrong-way collisions happen at night. The National Transportation Safety Board reports that almost 31% of wrong-way driving collisions occur between midnight and 3:00 AM. The majority of wrong-way collisions also involve alcohol. While gross negligence is often involved in motor vehicle accidents, simple human error because of road design can also lead to fatal consequences. Road designs where entrance and exit ramps are in parallel positions, running the same way, can also cause wrong-way collisions. Usually, drivers will have to drive past the exit ramp before taking the ramp to the highway, which increases the chance of a wrong-way collision.