Grand Am Slam Surgery

Paul Bass PhotoTwo passengers were trapped. Firefighters had to work fast to free them—but not too fast.

The firefighters’ challenge: performing automotive surgery on a crumpled Pontiac GT Grand Am.

A Toyota Prius slammed into that Grand Am at the perilous intersection of Westville’s Central Avenue and Willard Street around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. Judging by the contorted mass of metal on the scene, it was a dramatic crash, and probably one involving some fast driving.

Twelve firefighters rushed to the scene. Paramedics easily removed the driver of the Toyota hybrid, who was alone in that car. They removed two of the four occupants of the mangled Grand Am, too, the driver and the rear driver’s side passenger. All three were transported to the hospital.

The Grand Am’s other two occupants were stuck in the passenger-side front and rear seats. Demolished car doors pinned their legs.

The firefighters brought out a Holmatro high-pressure hydraulic tool to cut into the metal and remove the doors.

They knew they had to work as quickly as possible. But they also knew they had to be careful, noted Capt. Brian Jooss, lest they push part of the metal into the trapped victims.

“You have to be very meticulous about how you cut,” Jooss said.

By around 6 p.m. the doors were off. Click on the video at the top of the story to watch the crew complete the task and remove the last two passengers.

All five people involved in the crash went to Yale-New Haven Hospital, according to acting West Battalion Chief Miguel Rosada. He described the injuries as non-life-threatening: the victims were “alert” and “conscious.” No pools of blood.

Rosada said it was too soon to ascertain who was at fault in the crash.

Neighbors gathered in the early-evening dark to watch the rescue effort. Jane Dubin and Mary Rubano (at center and left in photo) fumed about the lack of a regular traffic light at the corner. Instead, the intersection has a flashing light and, on Willard, stop signs.

Dubin and Rubano live in a house on the corner. They said drivers regularly speed through the intersection. They said they’ve complained to politicians and city officials.

“We want a light here. We’re sick of this. Every month this happens. People fly through,” Dubin said.

“Somebody,” Rubano added, “is going to get killed.”

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posted by: mitch on December 2, 2010  9:17am

paul, have you no respect for personal privacy?  putting people in peril and distressed on camera because it “sells” is something i’d expect from the ny post.  you’ve dissapointed me mr. bass. 
utter lack of class.

posted by: Moira on December 2, 2010  10:02am

Thank God no one was killed last night. That is without question one of THE WORST intersections in New Haven. Speed on Central Ave combined with poor visibility from Willard is a recipe for casualties.

posted by: Pedro Soto on December 2, 2010  10:16am

This would actually be a intersection for a roundabout, but at the very least they should just make the damn intersection a stop sign and end this problem.

I was almost involved in a serious accident in high school right at this intersection. A guy in a Camaro was flying down central, and I pulled out from willard not seeing him (since he was so far down the street) and he slammed his brakes hard and just missed me.  While I was the “cause” of him stopping, it was the fact that he was going about 60 down central that would have caused the accident.

Central is a nice long straight run through Westville and people use it as a speedway to cross over New Haven all the time since it links Rt 34 to Whalley. The minimal cost of stop signs at all of the unsignaled intersections would greatly reduce the speeds on this street.

posted by: Sean on December 2, 2010  10:20am

Nice work by Capt Jooss and his fellow firefighters.  We are blessed with an excellent fire service in this city and its nice to see a positive story on them.  Keep up the good work NHFD.

posted by: elmcityguy on December 2, 2010  10:22am

I live a few houses down on Willard, and that intersection is horrible. You have to pull out almost into the middle of Central to see past the street parking, and people fly up and down Central. It’s the only big intersection in the area without a 4 way stop.

posted by: streever on December 2, 2010  10:56am

Others amongst us applaud this real reporting, because it showcases one of the real problems of our society.

Why is it the regular news media covers kidnappings as if they happened every day, while barely spending a moment covering the car crashes that end lives and destroy families on a daily basis?

The NHI has the right priorities. They don’t always get it right, but I fail to see how this fails.

posted by: Chris Heitmann on December 2, 2010  11:09am

Mitch, I’m actually quite grateful for NHI coverage of accidents like this as they highlight the tremendous need for traffic calming in Westville and throughout the city.

Cars don’t look like that when crashing at 25mph, which is what the posted speed limit is here and throughout New Haven. On neighborhood streets like Central and Willard, it arguably should be slower, more like 20mph. While the NHPD has done an excellent job of stepping up traffic enforcement in the neighborhood, enforcement will only get us so far. Similarly with education: it’s needed, but will have a very limited impact (no pun intended). The third “E” - Engineering - is where the city can really improve safety here. As Pedro suggests, this intersection is an excellent candidate for a small roundabout (not as big as on West Park, for which there’s no room here). Other alternatives would be bumping out the sidewalk at all four corners, thus narrowing the street and reducing crossing distances, raised crosswalks, and/or pedestrian refuges/planted medians leading into the intersection. The city needs to really study what the BEST solution would be here, and to consult with neighbors throughout. My concern with the idea of another traffic light is that cars would arguably speed more in order to make the light. The solution needs to SLOW PEOPLE DOWN, which would make this safer for cars, pedestrians, cyclists, and the kids who cross and wait here for the school bus every morning.

Thank goodness no one was seriously hurt yesterday and that no pedestrians or cyclists without 3000 pounds of steel to product them were in the intersection when this happened. A big thank you to the NHFD for a job well done and to the Independent for bringing attention to this sadly ongoing yet preventable issue.

posted by: Truth Avenger on December 2, 2010  11:31am

To Mitch:
Mr. Bass is not selling anything.  He was reporting a story that needs to be told, and shown, so that others will take heed and avoid the same fate.  The stretch of Yale Avenue where the accident took place, is notorious for accidents, some which have claimed lives.  Showning the consequences of speeding or not obeying traffic signs (speeding, caution, stop, curve, etc.)is a public service in my mind and I’m glad that Mr. Bass was on the scene to remind us of the need for greater caution when we drive.  Sometimes, reality is not “classy” and neither is blaming the media for doing its job!

posted by: mitch on December 2, 2010  12:30pm

Truth & company.  ...  It’s an invasion of privacy, unless of course bass approached the people in the car and asked permission.

posted by: anon on December 2, 2010  12:31pm

Please vote to have this fixed.

posted by: Dialogue on December 2, 2010  12:46pm

One of the worst intersections in the city.Always has been. NHPD statistics going back forty years would show it. I hope it doesn,t take someone getting killed to move this along.

posted by: anon on December 2, 2010  2:05pm

Who exactly pays for these thousands of hours of investigation and emergency services every month?

If you’re wondering why our city’s budget for police and fire services is so enormous, this might give you a clue why.

I’m tired of drivers getting a free ride from city residents, the vast majority of whom do not drive to work every day.

Taxes should be heavily increased on vehicles so that users of vehicles pay their fair share to cover these enormous costs. Another way to think of it is that the people who do not own a car should get a huge tax refund and/or free bus passes and other benefits.

posted by: streever on December 2, 2010  2:36pm

Right on Heitmann.

Contrary to popular belief, you have no “right to privacy” when you are in a public space.

These people were in a public space, doing a public activity (driving is regulated and governed).

The Supreme Court has long-ago ruled that photos of anyone taken from a public place are legal.

I.e. if I want to practice naked hulu hooping in front of my 12 foot window which opens out onto the green, and a passerby is shocked and calls the police, guess what? I’m in trouble. No one invaded my privacy.

posted by: angelo reyes on December 2, 2010  3:18pm

I can’t agree with you on this one.My 16 year old daughter saw the video.This is good stuff for teenagers who think it won’t happen to them.GOOD JOB PAUL.

posted by: Jeanne on December 2, 2010  3:21pm

An accident on a city street is no private matter. I think if more people saw this it might be a wake up call!!! I live on that corner and it’s a death trap. These folks were very lucky and the police and fire crew were very professional.

We need a four way stop or a stop light and I’m going to keep fighting for it!!!!!!!!

posted by: William Kurtz on December 2, 2010  4:38pm

Streever’s right; there’s no expectation of privacy on a public street and anyone is free to photograph, film, or otherwise record events happening there—as the recent brouhaha over citizens recording police activity in public should have made clear to everyone.

posted by: nfjanette on December 2, 2010  7:02pm

Wasn’t the intersection one block away (Central and West Elm), which is currently controlled by a four-way stop sign setup, formerly a two-way stop sign setup?  If so, that might be the model for the intersection with Willard.

posted by: Dr. J on December 2, 2010  9:53pm

Alden and Willard is also horrible.  People who are unfamiliar with the intersection coming up Willard think that it’s a 4 way stop, but it is not. And so they assume people coming up Alden will stop, and there are very regular accidents and close calls. 

4 way stop signs would be very easy to place.  It boggles the mind why the city won’t invest in a couple 4 x 4s and some red hexagons to save lives and slow people down!

Kudos to the NHI for reporting.

posted by: Living in Westville on December 2, 2010  11:27pm

We had even worse speeding issues and more accidents on Central and West Elm. I pushed to get a stop sign for 2 years.  It is now MUCH safer with a stop sign.  If we want it changed, get our alderman to bring it to the appropriate committee.  If enough people speak loudly, we can make it a safer intersection.

posted by: al trimaine on December 3, 2010  7:42am

Paul, would you have played the video if the occupants were dead?

[Editor’s Note: Great question! I wrestled with this one, and appreciate all the views expressed here. I felt a need to balance the importance of showing the public the impact and consequences of this out-of-control driving, the real human cost. But as commenters noted, a person’s dignity is also at stake, as well as a person’s privacy. And we can’t ask a dead or injured person at the time: Hey, do you want your misery to be displayed to ward off others’ reckless and almost homicidal behavior? We need to make that judgment on the spot for them. In this case it felt a little easier because the woman hadn’t died, and because I felt (rightly or wrongly) that you couldn’t really identify her from that shot. But as you point out here, that somewhat ducks the tough question. And I don’t have a good answer! We’ll keep wrestling with it. Thanks for pressing it.]

posted by: Barbara on December 3, 2010  12:14pm

In 2003, my car was rear-ended and crushed into the car in front of mine in a serious accident at the corner of Central Ave./E.G. Boulevard while sitting in my car waiting for the red light to change. This is not to say that a traffic light is a bad idea; just that it is not a perfect solution, either. The traffic light at Alden/Edgewood was certainly helpful. Until people start to drive responsibly again, we will continue to have these accidents and near-misses every day. A state-wide driver education program (TV, Billboard, Newspaper) as well as STRICT enforcement of stop light & stop sign infractions is long overdue. We need to make public bad driving as unacceptable as public smoking has become. I know that camera ticketing is controversial; but being killed or crippled by a maniac driver is not acceptable, either. ‘Right Turn on Red’ seemed like a good idea, once; but it seems to have removed everyone’s inhibitions about all traffic regulations. I’m not sure that ‘traffic calming’ impediments and circles are a great idea. They seem to be obstacles waiting to be hit, and an obstruction to snowplows - but I guess research shows otherwise. I always take a deep breath & pray before entering a traffic circle - hoping I will get through the melee safely. I do feel the 4-way stop at West Elm & Central has been a great improvement, and would certainly help here, as well. It is an inexpensive and effective action to take both here and at Alden/Willard. Meanwhile, please think of SAFETY when you are hurrying to your destination & especially when approaching an intersection. The speed limit really is 25 mph - don’t curse at those who observe it. Follow their example. Remember our children are watching us drive & learning from us (especially those cuss words) We need to plan enough time to get to our destinations while observing the traffic laws; not running red & yellow lights and doing 45-50 (or more) in a 25mph zone. The way we drive can save lives or end them. I apologize for the sermon, but I am still in pain after 7 years. I am lucky to be alive.

posted by: Jeanne on December 3, 2010  12:57pm

Well it appears to be the consensus that a light or four way stop on Central and Willard is way overdue. Now how do we go about it getting it done? Who do I contact? I have tried before and got no where but I’m going to fight the fight because I live on that corner! I have conteplated going out and spray painting the yellow caution light red, of course I know that sounds crazy but what’s crazier is that nothing has been done for years, well now is the time to do something about the drag race from Fountain to W. Elm before one of us is the next victim. Agreed???