Friends of crash victim say change needed at intersection

Friends of crash victim say change needed at intersection

Friends of John Blain, including, from left, Joshua Palin, of Lincoln, Joel Cherette, of North Smithfield, Josh Lussier, of Woonsocket, Glen Bartholomew, of Woonsocket, and Tom Perron, of Lincoln, gathered on Sunday at the memorial where their friend was involved in a fatal crash on Diamond Hill Road on June 7. (Breeze photos by Lauren Clem)

WOONSOCKET – Josh Lussier describes his friend, John Blain, as a “giant teddy bear” with a great sense of humor and a smile that could light up a room.

“You could meet him for five minutes and he would make an impression on you somehow and some way,” he said.

Blain, he said, had always wanted a motorcycle, and had only owned one for three weeks when he was involved in a fatal crash at the intersection of Diamond Hill and Walnut Hill roads. Blain was driving his motorcycle up Diamond Hill Road on June 7 when an SUV turned out of Walnut Hill too quickly in front of him. Blain was killed in the crash, while his friend, Kim Tanguay, suffered serious injuries.

The driver of the SUV, 72-year-old Jeanne Fortier, was cited for failing to yield the right of way. But Lussier and Blain’s family and friends think there was more than just an inattentive driver behind the crash. The intersection, said Lussier, has serious problems with visibility and speed, and he thinks action needs to be taken to prevent other accidents in the future.

“I sat there for two-and-a-half hours the other day,” he told The Breeze last week. “I was just sitting on that corner watching, and I literally almost saw five accidents happening in that time.”

Lussier has started a petition asking city officials to improve the intersection. His main concern is a decorative brick wall owned by Walnut Hill Apartments that impedes visibility for cars trying to turn out of Walnut Hill Road, but he thinks a traffic light would also help ease problems at the busy intersection.

As of Tuesday, 650 individuals had signed the online petition.

Woonsocket Police Department Deputy Chief Michael Lemoine told The Breeze the intersection has seen a total of 98 accidents since January 2015. Of those, 14 saw at least one of the involved parties transported to the hospital after reporting pain or injury.

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Lemoine said the intersection accounts for about 3 percent of all traffic accidents on Diamond Hill Road in Woonsocket.

“We certainly would look at any ways to help improve vehicle or pedestrian traffic in that area or any area throughout the city,” he said.

The department, he said, has not received any specific requests to look at the intersection, but could speak with the property owner of the apartment complex about improving visibility. In the case of a light, he said, the decision would have to come from the state, since Diamond Hill Road is a state road.

Lemoine said he does not expect the department’s investigation of the crash to result in charges other than the citation.

“All indications are it was a tragic accident,” he said.

It’s not the first fatal accident to take place at the intersection. At the corner of Walnut Hill and Diamond Hill Roads, where a makeshift memorial has sprung up in honor of Blain, a wooden sign bears the names of three crash victims who died on the site in 1982.

Lussier and a group of friends stopped by the corner on Sunday while going for a Father’s Day ride with Blain’s father, Rich. Rich, they explained, is also a motorcycle owner, and had expected to head out for a ride with his son that day. Instead, they said, he lost a son but gained five new ones to ride in Blain’s place.

Examining the memorial, Rich Blain commented on the nearly 40-year-old sign that now sits next to photographs of his son.

“How many more of those do we need room for over here?” he said.

Along with improving the intersection, Lussier said the group hopes to pay tribute to Blain’s memory by founding a scholarship in his name. Blain, a North Smithfield resident, attended the Woonsocket Area Career and Technical Center and was studying to become an electrician. The group has already raised money through a GoFundMe page and hopes to hold a charity ride later this year.

“Something has to be done. I’m trying to keep John’s legacy going, and John’s legacy will only be going for as long as we let it go,” said Lussier.

This is the view for vehicles turning out of Walnut Hill Road, where friends think a decorative wall and other factors contributed to the crash that caused John Blain’s death.