Crash closes Route 4 in Auburn

AUBURN — A Sabattus man was injured Tuesday morning when his Chevrolet pickup drifted across Route 4 north of Lake Auburn and into an oncoming tractor-trailer.

Scott Taylor/Sun Journal

This pickup truck registered to an 85-year-old Sabattus man was involved in a late-morning crash on Route 4 in Auburn on Tuesday.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

An Auburn firefighter grabs a shovel to dig a temporary ditch to pool diesel fuel leaking from a tractor-trailer and stop it from leaking into Lake Auburn. The truck was traveling north on Route 4 near the intersection of Lake Shore Drive in Auburn when a pickup drifted across the median and hit the tractor-trailer head-on. The tractor-trailer driver, Kenneth Huotari, lost control and smashed into a house on the corner of Lake Shore Drive and Route 4.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

An Auburn firefighter stands next to the pickup that was involved in a head-on accident in front of St. Philip's Church on Route 4 in Auburn on Tuesday.

Andrew Cullen/Sun Journal

A corner of Mary Card's home on Turner Road was demolished when a tractor trailer was hit by another vehicle and pushed off the road and into the building Tuesday morning.

Andrew Cullen/Sun Journal

Rod Bates of the Auburn Water and Sewer District scoops up soil contaminated with diesel fuel after an accident on Route 4 in Auburn that resulted in a tractor trailer careening into the home of Mary Card. Officials worried that the roughly 120 gallons of spilled diesel fuel would rach Lake Auburn.

Pickup driver Gerard Grondin, 85, of 372 Lisbon Road, Sabattus, was taken by ambulance to Central Maine Medical Center. He was being kept overnight at the hospital for observastion, Auburn police chief Phil Crowell said Tuesday evening .

The tracker-trailer driver lost control and crashed into a house, spilling diesel fuel within sight of the lake's shore.

Auburn police and fire crews closed the road in both directions for six hours Wednesday while work crews spread sand and absorbent padding to clean up the diesel.

According to witnesses, Grondin was traveling south on Route 4 at about 9:45 a.m. and had just passed Lake Shore Drive when he began drifting into the northbound lanes.

Ashley LaGrange, 20, of Winter St. in Auburn, was headed north when she saw Grondin's truck drift into her lane.

"I slowed down, because I thought he'd correct himself," she said. "But he didn't. He just kept right on coming."

Grondin's truck passed in front of LaGrange's car and ran directly into a tractor-trailer, driven by Kenneth Huotari of Temple. Huotari was traveling north in the right-hand lane.

LaGrange said the impact sent Grondin's truck bouncing into her Mazda 626 and forced her into the southbound lanes.

"But I was lucky, because nobody else was coming," she said. Her car came to rest on the side of the road. It was damaged, but she was unhurt.

Huotari said Grondin's car hit the front driver side of his tractor-trailer, forcing him across both the northbound left lane and two lanes of southbound traffic and into a house at 2834 Turner Road, also known as Route 4.

Mary Card, owner of that house, said she had just left to visit her mother on Lake Shore Drive.

"I heard the crash and saw the smoke," she said. "It looked like it was coming from my house, so I walked over to see."

The house was empty at the time. Huotari's tractor-trailer hit the south end of the house, running into her kitchen. The crash demolished a corner of the house, leaving a gaping hole, and damaged the foundation.

Card and her husband were preparing to spend the night at their son's house in Lewiston on Tuesday evening. They spent the afternoon putting tools and clothes from the house into Matt's truck to take with them.

“Probably that'll be it for now,” she said. “I don't know how safe the house is,”

Firefighters used extrication equipment to pull Grondin from his demolished truck.

Crews worked all afternoon to clean up about 120 gallons of diesel that leaked from Huotari's fuel tank, backing up traffic on either side and detouring it around Lake Auburn.

The diesel had poured into the foundation of the house and out a drainage pipe leading toward the lake, the Twin Cities' water source, about 150 feet behind the house.

Some fuel got as close as 25 feet from the lake shore, said John Luongo, an oil and hazardous materials specialist for the state. But a berm and absorbent padding stopped the fuel from reaching the water, he said, adding that his crew set up floating booms in the lake at the end of the drainage ditch as an extra precaution.

Staff writer Andrew Cullen contributed to this report.

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 's picture


Usually nothing here surprises me, but WOW. Just wow. What an incredibly cruel and uncalled for comment Julie. Perhaps you should take a step back and look at your perfect life a bit closer. Whatever your decision about it, you certainly owe Mr. Pelletier an apology.

GARY SAVARD's picture

I didn't read where they said

I didn't read where they said the guy who owned/registered the truck was the driver. I guess I missed that. I agree though that as we get older, medical issues are more common occurances and our senses get less acute...but try telling your 80 year old, otherwise relatively healthy mother or father that you are taking the keys away and their sense of independence along with it at the same time. It may be the sensible thing to do, but it's a lot easier to talk about here on line than to actually accomplish.

AL PELLETIER's picture

How true, Gary

My Dad is 92 and still drives. It's really scary but he's a stubborn old Frenchmen who thinks he's as sharp as a 20 year old. To even mention he give up driving would piss him off to no end. He's very proud of the fact that he still lives in his home, has his pick-up truck and comes and goes as he pleases. He's as deaf as a door nail, has glaucoma and the early on set of dementia. I would love to see the state order he take a road test. Perhaps if he failed he'd realize he shouldn't be driving anymore. If I told him his driving scares me he'd write me out of his will and would disown me. It's an horrible situation.

 's picture

I'm sorry but I would rather

I'm sorry but I would rather be disinheirited than have my parent kill someone else or themselves because they are not safe to be driving. I guess I care more about human life than a little cash in my bank account.

AL PELLETIER's picture

Horrible situation

Julie, I knew my post would bring on comments such as yours, cruel and without understanding of my situation. All you could read is that I am concerned about cash in my bank account. Guess what girly girl, I have enough cash reserves to live very well the rest of my life. My Dad never speaking to me again and hating me is what is tearing me apart, so take your well meaning comment and shove it!

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

A little rough around the

A little rough around the edges, Sweetfern, but well stated and certainly called for.

 's picture

By your description of your

By your description of your dads health situation I'd be more scared that I knew and didn't do anything about it. I couldn't live with the fact that I could have prevented him from either killing himself, someone else on the road, or both.

 's picture

Another alternative

There is another alternative to you telling your dad he shouldn't be driving. Make an appointment to have a confidential and frank discussion with his physician. To hear it from his physician would likely get a better response than from one of his children. You could conceivably even make yourself the good guy, by offering to help him with transportation.

AL PELLETIER's picture

Thanks Martha

My sister lives next door to my Dad who lives 40 miles away and knows his physician. I'll discuss your idea with her. This is the kind of advice I was looking for. Thanks again.

 's picture


Regardless of who this guy is, at 85 years old it is definately time to stop driving. In most cases after 80 is time to hang up the keys.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Can't just paint them all

Can't just paint them all with the same brush, Bruce. Everyone ages differently, just like fine wines.


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