One morning last June, Denise Glidden told her three young children she loved them and reluctantly headed to work. It was a warm, sunny Friday morning, and she’d much rather have spent it in the backyard swimming pool with her daughters.

As a residential crisis worker at Tri-County Mental Health Services in Lewiston, Glidden usually left in the late morning, but that day she had a staff meeting first thing. So a little after 9 a.m., she pulled onto Route 202 from her home in Augusta and pointed her minivan toward L-A.

Halfway there, a car crossed the centerline and hit her head-on.

Three weeks later, Glidden awoke in the hospital with broken ribs, a shattered pelvis, a damaged kidney and a broken back. Her left leg was so badly crushed that she would later make the heart-wrenching decision to have it amputated.

Today, she relies on family to help with her children. She lost her leg, her job — and, for now, her independence.

But Glidden considers herself one of the lucky ones.

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“I got a second chance to be here,” she said.

In 2014, at least five people were killed in four separate crashes on the 25-mile stretch of Route 202 between Lewiston and Augusta — one was the driver who hit Glidden.

It was the deadliest year for that road in at least the past decade. And final 2014 numbers aren’t yet in.

When residents, drivers and town leaders talk about the most dangerous roads in central Maine, Route 4 almost always tops their list. But Route 202 is rarely far behind.

“It’s extremely scary,” said Troy Michaud, who can see Route 202 from his Monmouth front door. “I’ve got an 18-year-old daughter who travels that road. She travels to Augusta daily. My wife travels to Hallowell daily. It is scary.”

The Maine Department of Transportation has taken notice. It considered placing centerline rumble strips along Route 202 from Lewiston to Manchester in the coming years. It’s now talking about skipping the wait and doing some of that work this year.

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Some people don’t think it’s enough. They talk about the need for lower speed limits, increased police patrols, more signs and flashing lights at problem areas.

They say drivers need to be more aware of the potential for tragedy.

Three weeks ago, six months after Glidden’s crash, a father and son were killed on the same road — one town over — when another driver crossed the centerline.

“They can’t just let this keep happening,” Glidden said.

25 miles, 1,584 crashes

Route 202 runs 627 miles from Delaware to Maine. It passes through several southern Maine towns before crossing from Lewiston to Augusta. The road ends in Bangor.

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Route 202 is one of Maine’s rural highways, comparable to Routes 126, 196, 201 and 4. In central Maine, with speed limits of up to 50 mph, Route 202 is largely a commuter road used by drivers going to and from Augusta.

Unlike Route 4, Route 202 has not been studied by the Maine DOT in recent years. However, the department has closely tracked crash statistics on the road, and it hasn’t liked what it’s seen.

“Any time you have a significant crash, it gets our attention,” said Stephen Landry, DOT traffic engineer.

In the past decade, there have been 1,584 crashes on the 25-mile stretch of Route 202 in central Maine from outer Lewiston to the beginning edge of Augusta. In 192 of those accidents, at least one person got hurt. In another 67 crashes, someone was hurt so badly the injuries were incapacitating.

In 12 accidents, at least one person died. That doesn’t include the December car crash that killed a father and son in Leeds, and possibly other crashes in which someone was killed, because the statistics for 2014 are not yet complete.

But even incomplete, data reveal there were more crashes in 2014 than in seven of the past 10 years.

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In comparison, the Maine Turnpike from Lewiston to Augusta saw 968 crashes during the same 10-year period, nearly 40 percent fewer than Route 202. It also had far fewer crashes that resulted in injury (62 rather than 192), incapacitating injury (16 rather than 67) or death (5 rather than 12).

During one of Route 4’s most dangerous decades, 2003 to 2012, the 18-mile Auburn-to-Turner stretch experienced 2,755 crashes, far more than Route 202 between Lewiston and Augusta did in the past 10 years. However, people involved in a Route 202 crash along that stretch were more likely to be killed or incapacitated than those on Route 4.

Some say the problem is Route 202 itself. Because the road from Lewiston to Augusta goes about as much east-west as it does north-south, it catches bright sunlight morning and evening, potentially blinding drivers. And with myriad intersections, cross streets and driveways, cars constantly pull into traffic or stop on the road to turn — both hazards — especially at near-highway speeds.

In the past 10 years, about 23 percent of Route 202 crashes involved an intersection or driveway.

“If I’m going anywhere, generally I come down here to the intersection to use a controlled traffic light,” said Manchester Town Manager E. Patrick Gilbert, whose town hall sits near Route 202. “If you’re coming in off some of the other roads that don’t have controlled access to 202, it can be a little tricky, a little scary at times.”

Others say the road itself is mostly fine; drivers are the big problem.

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“They go too fast,” said Eugene Ellis, whose Winthrop home sits feet from Route 202 and from a small memorial marker on the side of the road engraved simply “Bob.” Someone placed the white cross there years ago to mark the site of a crash, Ellis said.

Over the past 10 years, at least 65 percent of drivers involved in crashes on this stretch of Route 202 were doing something wrong. At the top of the list: failing to yield, driving too fast, following too closely, turning improperly and passing improperly.

The other 35 percent swerved to avoid something in the road or said they did nothing wrong. That information is largely based on what drivers, passengers and witnesses report to police. However, it’s not uncommon, according to the DOT, for people to keep quiet about what went wrong, particularly if they were responsible. And if a driver isn’t forthcoming — about being distracted, for example — it can be difficult for police to identify a driver’s action at the time of the crash.

But sometimes, it’s obvious.

Glidden’s crash involved both speeding and improper passing.

No time to react

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The 33-year-old remembers almost everything that led up to the crash — and nothing immediately after.

She remembers wishing she could stay home with her girls as she got ready to leave her home in Augusta. Her husband had taken the day off from work to care for them, but she had a morning staff meeting. Glidden messaged a co-worker before she left the house to let her know she was running late.

The commute normally took about 45 minutes. On the way, she thought about how long her day would be. Between the staff meeting and her regular shift as a crisis worker, she would be at work from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

But Glidden never made it there.

In Monmouth, about halfway into her commute, the pickup truck in front of her suddenly swerved to avoid something.

That’s where her memory ends.

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Immediately after the crash, witnesses told the Sun Journal that the operator of a Lincoln Town Car had been driving recklessly — speeding, passing three cars at a time and drifting into the opposite lane as he headed toward Augusta. One witness said that driver was trying to pass another car when he hit Glidden head-on.

The pickup in front of Glidden had swerved to avoid the Town Car, but Glidden didn’t have time to react.

After an investigation, Monmouth police said the crash occurred because the driver of the Town Car, 48-year-old Kenneth Rucker of Sabattus, had been speeding and crossing the centerline as he tried to pass another car.

Rucker was killed. Glidden was found upside down in the driver’s seat, severely injured.

When she woke in the hospital, she had to be filled in on what happened.

“They said someone had died, and then I felt really awful,” Glidden said.

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Most of Glidden’s injuries slowly healed, but her left leg, which had been crushed into her driver’s side door, developed an infection. She made the decision to amputate.

Glidden returned home on Nov. 18, five months after she left the house, thinking about her kids, their swimming pool and the staff meeting at work.

Although she’s still rebuilding her life, she said, “I’m honestly thankful he hit me and not somebody else with kids in the car, because I don’t think they would have survived.”

Solutions?

It’s not always easy to tell what causes a stretch of road to be a problem — or where an engineer’s challenge ends and personal responsibility begins — even for the department whose job it is to determine such things.

“For some reason, things become hot spots,” Landry said. “We had Route 111 between Biddeford and Sanford probably about 10 years ago (when) there were like nine fatalities over a  four-month period. You’re like, ‘Where’d that come from?’ We went out there, came up with all these different projects. We put up signage. The next year, before we even did some of the projects, the crashes were down.”

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Sometimes, he believes, drivers are distracted or impatient — “Then they do something silly like pass someone when another car is coming” — and crashes spike until the deaths catch drivers’ attention. Then they drive more thoughtfully.

In the case of Route 202, he believes the road isn’t a problem.

“Most of it’s straight and flat,” Landry said. “It’s not the road that’s the danger, it’s the people that are driving on it and not paying attention, being on cellphones, driving too fast for the conditions, being in a hurry and wanting to pass somebody. Sometimes, there’s no easy answer.”

The MDOT, which gets federal money every year to address unsafe roads, has been looking for answers for Route 202. Over the years, it’s placed signs, lights and centerline rumble strips along portions of the road.

Some parts of Route 202 from Lewiston to Manchester now have centerline rumble strips. For some time, DOT officials have considered adding more strips so they extend along the entire stretch.

But with the number and severity of crashes getting worse, they’re now talking about moving that project to the top of the priority list and adding more strips this year.

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Some drivers, residents and town leaders say those strips might help, but they’d like other things done, too — lower speed limits, more signs and flashing lights at problem areas. They talk about physical road changes — such as roundabouts — to force traffic to slow down.

The most frequently discussed idea is an increased police presence, both to catch speeders and to scare people into driving responsibly.

That one might happen.

The Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Department has applied for — and anticipates getting — a $20,000 federal grant to add speed details and enforcement on county roads from March to September. A large portion of the grant will be spent on Route 202, Sheriff Eric Samson said.

“You’ve got speed limit signs; you hope that people follow them,” Sheriff Eric Samson said, adding that voluntary compliance would be better than having to enforce the law.

Rebuilding her life

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Glidden isn’t sure centerline rumble strips will help, but she likes the idea of more police. She believes “anything will be better than nothing at this point” for Route 202.

Since her crash last June, she’s heard from people with their own experiences on the road. Many were near misses. One friend was involved in a crash that broke both of her ankles.

“She’s like, ‘In comparison to what you and other people have gone through, I got away easy,'” Glidden said.

Seven months after her crash, Glidden is still waiting for her doctor to sign off on the prosthetic leg that will allow her to walk again. She’s able to get herself in and out of her wheelchair, navigate the bathroom and stand at a sink, but she relies on family to help care for her daughters, ages 5, 3 and 1½.

“Eventually, I’ll walk,” she said. “It’ll just take time. That’s the only thing really keeping me going at this point, is just that I know it will happen eventually.”

But when she does, Glidden won’t have her job to return to. Because she had been with Tri-County Mental Health Services for less than a year, she was not protected by the Family Medical Leave Act and Tri-County had to fill the position. Soon after the crash, she lost her job.

Tri-County has said Glidden might be able to return in a different position, but she isn’t excited by the prospect. It would mean a daily commute from Augusta to Lewiston, and the idea of that is too much.

“I probably won’t ever want to drive Route 202 again, if I don’t have to,” she said.

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This map has been built with data from the Maine DOT and shows crashes that have resulted in fatalities, incapacitating injuries and non-incapacitating injuries.



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