Police probe wrong-way crash that killed 3 elderly friends

Marjorie Minore didn't let her age get in the way.

At 90, she lived alone in her North Haven home. She would go out almost every day with her daughter and faithful companion, Barbara Prato, of East Haven.

"I just said the other day that she would outlive us all," said Tina Shaw, Minore's neighbor. "She was a wonderful woman, and you couldn't ask for a better neighbor."

Shaw said she was awakened at 2 a.m. Wednesday by Minore's granddaughter, who told her that Minore, 63-year-old Prato and Prato's friend Tamara Nolin, 71, of Branford, were killed Tuesday night in a crash caused by a wrong-way driver on Interstate 95 in Old Lyme, three-tenths of a mile south of Exit 70.

Shaw said the women were heading back home from one of the local casinos.

"It's such a shame," Shaw said. "I would check in on her. She didn't want to give up her home. She spent a lot of time with her daughter."

Shaw said Minore also had two sons.

State police said Nolin was driving a 2007 Nissan Maxima south on I-95 in the area of Exit 70 when her car was hit by an Oldsmobile Alero driven by Frank Sundstrom, 51, of Warwick, R.I.

Police said Sundstrom was driving north on the southbound lanes of the highway. The accident happened at 9:08 p.m. and shut down the two-lane southbound highway for five hours.

The northbound lanes were also shut down, both to make room for emergency personnel and to clear a second, minor two-car crash between Exits 70 and 71, police said.

Police said Sundstrom was seriously injured and taken by Life Star helicopter to St. Raphael Hospital. A hospital spokesman said Wednesday that no one listed under the name Sundstrom was at the hospital.

Lt. J. Paul Vance said state police are investigating where Sundstrom entered the highway. He said the accident occurred almost instantaneously after police started receiving 911 calls.

As part of the investigation, Vance said police would reconstruct the last 24 hours for everyone involved. Toxicology tests will also be included as part of that investigation, he said.

Sundstrom pleaded no contest in Rhode Island on Aug. 25, 2004, to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, a first offense. As part of the disposition of the case, he lost his license for three months, paid a fine and court costs and was ordered to undergo "driving while intoxicated treatment," according to the Rhode Island court system.

Vance said police have yet to talk to Sundstrom and said it was too early in the investigation to say whether any charges would be filed.

"Right now, we are attempting to piece the facts and circumstances as we know it," he said. "It's impossible to speculate right now."

Wrong-way drivers

Kevin Nursick, a state Department of Transportation spokesman, said that from 2007 to 2011, there have been 18 fatalities in the state as a result of wrong-way driving.

Nursick said there had been no known wrong-way driving accidents at the site of Tuesday's crash.

During that period, there were three nonfatal wrong-way crashes between Old Saybrook and the Rhode Island border, a stretch of about 37 miles. One occurred in 2007 in Waterford, and the others happened in East Lyme and Stonington, both in 2009.

On March 25, 2010, two people died in a wrong-way crash in Stonington. Police said Lance Lewis of Batavia, N.Y., was driving south in the northbound lanes of I-95 in the area of Exit 91 when Lewis' car collided with one driven by Terrence Garbuzinski, 46, of North Attleboro, Mass., who was driving north. Both men were pronounced dead at the scene.

A report released by state police a year later did not provide any answers as to why Lewis was driving the wrong way.

Nursick said there was one fatality reported for the same time period between East Lyme and Griswold on Interstate 395, which is about 21 miles. That crash occurred on March 7, 2009, when Daniel Musser drove the wrong way in Montville, striking a van carrying Connecticut College students, killing Elizabeth Durante and seriously injuring two others. He was sentenced to 75 months in prison.

"These things are sporadic and random in terms of time and location," Nursick said. "All of the ramps are signed to the highest industry standards."

He said ramps have signs that indicate "Do Not Enter" or "Wrong Way." He also said that many ramps have arrows painted on them indicating the direction of traffic.

He said there are three main causes for wrong-way accidents: drunken drivers, mental incapacity, such as having a medical condition, and suicidal drivers.

"If a driver is not doing what they are supposed to be doing, then there really isn't much the DOT can do," he said.

Nursick also noted that putting spike strips on the ramps is not feasible, since first responders may need to travel the wrong way on the highway to get to an emergency.

"We can't have emergency responders getting flat tires when trying to rescue someone," he said.

Anyone who may have witnessed the crash is asked to call the state police Troop F barracks in Westbrook at (860) 399-2100.

i.larraneta@theday.com

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