MEXICO — River Valley residents reacted with shock and disbelief Wednesday morning to the deaths of a Rumford couple and the serious injuries of a Mexico couple in a head-on collision in Brewer on Tuesday.

Police said Joseph Richard, 76, of Mexico, was traveling west on Route 9 when his vehicle crossed the centerline and hit an SUV driven by Robert Collins of Barnstable, Mass.

Two passengers in Richard’s vehicle, his brother-in-law, Joseph Wilfred Laplante, 85, and his sister, Ella Laplante, 86, both of Rumford, died in the crash. Richard and his wife, Marjorie, were seriously injured.

Judy Collins was a passenger in her husband’s vehicle.

A spokeswoman at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor said Wednesday evening that Joseph Richard was in fair condition; his wife, Marjorie, was in serious condition; and Judy Collins was in fair condition. She had no information on Robert Collins.

Carlo Puiia of Rumford broke down emotionally Wednesday evening when trying to talk about the Laplantes, who were his next-door neighbors. He said he and his wife, Paula, were talking about the couple that evening.

“It’s a huge loss, not just for the family, but for the community, also,” Puiia said.

He grew up next door to the Laplante family.

“They’re the-salt-of-the-earth people and it really struck a chord,” Puiia said, choking up. “These are the people who built our community and gave it character.”

He added, “I’m really sad and concerned for the Laplante family, because this is crushing. They were quality people — God-fearing people — who helped build our community, and I would see them all the time. Genuine good people. Wilfred and Ella were wonderful people and I’m sad for their families.”

According to people who knew the Laplantes and who know the Richards, both couples had six children each.

Resident Tom Fallon said everyone knew Joseph Laplante by his middle name, Wilfred. Fallon, Wilfred and Joseph Richard all worked in the Rumford paper mill before retiring.

Fallon said he learned of the news when he went to church Wednesday morning. The Laplantes were attendees there, too, along with Puiia.

“I used to work for Wilfred Laplante in the mill,” Fallon said. “This is a community situation where everyone has lived together for a long time and a lot of us worked in the mill, so when something like this happens, it stuns you. All day today I’ve been thinking, ‘This can’t be true.'”

“It’s a hard thing to digest completely,” he said. The Laplantes “were very nice, very religious people. It’s hard. It really is.”

Late Wednesday afternoon, the mood was somber among officials in the Mexico Town Office.

Dave Errington, code enforcement officer for Mexico and Rumford, said he expected to learn more about the Richards’ conditions Wednesday night. Marjorie Richard is Errington’s sister-in-law.

Errington said the Laplantes and the Richards were returning from a family function in Canada, Errington said.

“It’s a very sad day for the community,” said Sheryl Briggs, deputy clerk of Mexico. “It’s awful.”

“It’s very tragic,” Town Clerk Penny Duguay of Byron said.

Briggs and Duguay said the Richards lost a daughter in a car accident on Route 2 six or seven years ago by Naples Packing in Mexico.

“It was an awful family tragedy,” Duguay said.

“It’s very sad,” bookkeeper Janna Schuster of Peru said.

Briggs, Schuster and Duguay said that were it not for Tuesday’s accident, Joseph and Marjorie Richard would have been downstairs Wednesday morning in the Municipal Building working for the Greater Rumford Area Ministers’ Pantry.

“They worked downstairs for GRAMPS every Wednesday morning,” Briggs said. “He sets up tables and chairs and she lays out the pastries they get from different local stores, cuts them up and gets them ready to serve.”

Briggs said Marjorie Richard also helped with a day care.

“I know because my grandchildren go there and they love Mémé,” she said of the children’s name for Marjorie.

Briggs said the Richards worked tirelessly for their community. Marjorie served on the town Budget Committee and worked to lower taxes until she quit this spring. But, Briggs said, Marjorie Richard had recently reapplied for the committee.

“They are very community-minded people,” she said.

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Staff and wire reports contributed to this article.


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