SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 5, 2012

Rider deemed at fault in fatal crash

UPS truck that hit motorcyclist in May was driven by Wenham man

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

---- — GLOUCESTER — A fatal collision with a delivery truck on Essex Avenue in May was the fault of the motorcyclist, according to a report released yesterday by the district attorney’s office.

However, Joseph Orlando, attorney for Stephen Bennett’s widow, Tammy, and her four children, said a “satisfactory” settlement was previously reached between the family and UPS, the owner of the vehicle with which Bennett’s Harley-Davidson collided. Tammy Bennett and her son Hunter, who was 12 at the time, were following directly behind Stephen Bennett’s motorcycle as they headed toward their home in the nearby Heights of Cape Ann.

The accident occurred as the UPS truck was entering Essex Avenue (Route 133) from Fernwood Lake Avenue.

According to the State Police Collision Reconstruction Report, Bennett’s error was his decision to pull parallel to a truck directly ahead of him as its driver signaled for a right turn onto Fernwood Lake Avenue, “steered” to the right and “partially entered the breakdown lane (preparing) for the right turn.”

Tammy Bennett yesterday referred questions to Orlando, who said he had not yet received his copy of the accident report. Carrie Kimball Monahan, spokeswoman for District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, said the office had been informed by the Gloucester Police Department that the Bennett family and its representatives had been notified and given copies of the report.

After he received a copy via email from the Gloucester Daily Times, Orlando said he had only time to read the conclusion, which held Stephen Bennett, 43, responsible for the accident.

“It is very clear,” he said, that the conclusion “was written by someone who had not witnessed the accident.”

He said he would have been prepared to put Tammy and Hunter Bennett on the witness stand to challenge any conclusion that Stephen Bennett caused the accident.

But he said the settlement with the UPS truck, driven by Jeffrey S. Goldstein of Wenham, obviated the need for a trial.

“The suit has been settled, it is covered by a confidentiality agreement, but we can say it was settled under satisfactory terms,” Orlando said. “UPS wanted to do the right thing — my respect for UPS has gone up enormously. For the sake of the Bennett family, I’m pleased we have been able to come up with a satisfactory resolution of the suit that will help the family.”

UPS declined comment, according to its case attorney, Tom O’Connor of White Plains, N.Y. Goldstein could not be reached yesterday.

The state police report found that Bennett was traveling about 23 mph at the moment of impact with the UPS truck.

The report quoted from the state law requiring that, on a divided two-lane road, “the operators of motorcycles ... shall ride single file when passing and shall not pass any other motor vehicle within the same lane, except another motorcycle.

“Therefore, the (UPS) truck driver in this scenario had no expectation of a motorcycle passing (the preceding) truck within the same lane on a two-lane roadway separated by a double yellow center lane, which defined an area as a no passing zone,” the state police report indicated. “The cause of this collision and the resultant fatal injuries suffered by Stephen Bennett was his illegal passing of the (preceding) truck that obscured his vision of the roadway ahead on Route 133 while in the eastbound travel lane.

“Witness statements reveal that Mr. Bennett did in fact pass the (preceding) truck in violation of Massachusetts General Laws linking a chain of events that resulted in his fatal injuries,” the report said.

The Bennetts were high school sweethearts in Streator, Ill., a coal-mining town about 90 miles southwest of Chicago. They married there, and all four of their children were born there. Stephen Bennett was hired by Gloucester Engineering in 2001. He was a machinist.

At the time of his death, Bennett was employed at Ophir Optics LLC of North Andover, a major manufacturer of precision infrared optical components.

“We were raised on Harleys, all the way down the line,” Tammy Bennett told the Times in the days following the accident. “He died doing what he loved most.”

The accident occurred around 4 p.m. on a sunny, late spring day.