By Eric Francis, Standard Correspondent
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — A list of medical conditions and an even longer list of accompanying medications may have played a role in the collision between a pickup truck and two horses that were being ridden along the edge of Route 106 in South Woodstock on March 30.
Lawrence Allen, 64, of Bridgewater appeared in court in downtown White River Junction on Tuesday morning where he entered an innocent plea to a single felony count of grossly negligent operation of a vehicle resulting in serious injury and then agreed not to drive “any sort of vehicle whatsoever” while his case is pending.
The collision shortly before noon that Saturday sent both Anne-Marie Savino, 54, of West Windsor and Christina Phillips, 28, to the hospital for treatment of concussions and other injuries and resulted in the horse that Savino was riding, a half-Morgan, half-Arabian competition horse named “Annie,” having to be put down at the scene by a veterinarian.
Phillips was in the lead and Savino was on “Annie” single-file behind her as they returned to the Kedron Valley Stables after an hour long ride, the pair recalled in statements that were incorporated into a crash report prepared by Woodstock Police Officer Joseph Swanson.
Phillips said they had both looked for traffic and seen nothing coming before entering onto a small concrete bridge and were almost halfway across when she suddenly “heard tires” and turned her head just in time to see Allen’s pickup headed straight for the horse behind her. Phillips said she barely had time to yell and turn back to grab hold of her own horse when she felt “Annie” being thrown against them and saw Savino hit the ground. At first Phillips thought her friend had been killed but when she dismounted and got to her side she noticed Savino was blinking and began yelling for someone to call 911.
Phillips said Allen drove around the downed animals, parked, and walked back to the injured women, saying something like, “I didn’t hit you. I’ve never been in an accident,” as he approached them.
Savino later told police that she “never heard anything, saw anything, or felt anything in regard to the accident,” remembering only the sudden glance back and the horrified look on Phillips face in the split-second beforehand and then, “the next thing I knew I was lying in the road and Chip Kendall was kneeling beside me.”
Kendall, owner of the Kedron Valley Stables and a long time member of the South Woodstock Volunteer Fire Department, was one of several EMTs who helped treat the pair until a Woodstock Ambulance crew arrived on the scene and took both women to the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.
Officer Swanson wrote that Allen was cooperative with his investigative efforts both at the scene and back at the police station but he also noted that Allen described himself as tired and a bit confused as to what had occurred.
A witness to the crash, Stacey Forest, 31, told police that she’d noticed Allen’s pickup “swerved a few times” as she was following it south down Route 106 towards South Woodstock and she’d already made the decision that it was safer to “hang back slightly” when she saw Allen drive right into the back of the rear horse.
Officer Swanson said Allen explained that he was on his way to Springfield to visit his mother and “didn’t remember the crash very well” in part because the sun was in his eyes, saying the first he saw of the horses was when one struck his windshield.
Allen, who has a pacemaker, listed a half-dozen serious medical conditions including diabetes during his interview at the police station and later provided a list of 10 medications that he takes daily for his various conditions.
Swanson noted in his report that Allen had checked his blood sugar levels after he ate breakfast that morning and before setting out for Springfield but he said Allen also allegedly admitted to him that, “around the time he got to Woodstock he felt like he shouldn’t have been driving and (said) that he was feeling forgetful.”