Massachusetts man killed by fallen tree on Merritt Parkway

STAMFORD — A Massachusetts man driving on the southbound Merritt Parkway was killed Thursday afternoon when a tree fell on the car he was driving during a heavy rain storm.

Norman Gamache, 74, of Westport, Mass., was pronounced dead at the scene, State Police said.

A passenger, Goldie S. Gitlin, 84, of North Dartmouth, Mass., suffered a fractured sternum and minor cuts and was taken to Stamford Hospital for treatment, the state police accident report said; another passenger, a 24-year-old Scarsdale, N.Y., woman, was not injured.

The large tree fell across the parkway from the shoulder of the road about one-quarter of a mile south of the Wire Mill Road overpass between exits 34 and 35. The tree fell directly on top of the silver 2008 Lincoln Town Car livery vehicle crushing the driver, according to Turn of River Fire Company Assistant Chief Matt Maounis.

The tree fell shortly before 1:30 p.m. and Maounis said when fire and rescue crews arrived on the scene, they found the car’s roof had pancaked down on the car and blew out the windows. While the two passengers in the back were able to communicate with rescue crews, Maounis said the driver probably died instantly.

Maounis said it took rescue crews about an hour to get the passengers out of the vehicle since the tree had to be lifted off the car and then the car pulled out from under it.

The southbound lanes of the parkway were shut down for about four hours and traffic had to be turned around and diverted off the road at Exit 35.

Trees on the parkway have fallen with deadly results in the past, most notably in June 2007 when a limb from a 65- to 75-foot-tall white pine smashed into the windshield of a Volvo XC90 sport utility vehicle in Westport, fatally injuring a Pelham, N.Y. couple while their two young sons in the back seat watched.

The incident prompted then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell to order an immediate review of the state’s tree safety policy along the parkway. A lawsuit filed on behalf of the family seeking $15 million in damages is still pending.

A spokesman for the state Department of Transportation said tree pruning and removal along the Merritt Parkway is a daily activity for the agency.

“On any given day, Merritt Parkway crews are dealing with trees needing to be removed or pruned,” DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said. “It is a regular maintenance activity. It’s something as routine as mowing.”

However, Nursick said sometimes trees with no signs of problems can fall.

“There are cases of perfectly healthy trees with no signs of decay or deterioration that break or fall and the ability of our department to prevent that is virtually impossible,” Nursick said.