A 19-year-old driver who fatally struck two Massachusetts cyclists Saturday morning in Hampton, N.H., just hours after being pulled over for speeding in virtually the same location, faces charges of negligent homicide and second-degree assault, authorities said Tuesday.
James Reams, the Rockingham County attorney in New Hampshire, said Darriean Hess of Seabrook, N.H., was speeding when she veered across Route 1A, crossing a double line, and crashed into a group of cyclists taking part in an organized 100-mile ride along the coast.
Her speed was “not reasonable given the events that were taking place that day and all the warnings we had posted,” Reams said at a news conference. He would not specify how fast she was driving. “I’ll characterize it as excessive,” he said.
Reams also said inattention played a role in the crash.
Hess, who was driving without a license, had been stopped for speeding in nearly the exact spot just hours before the fatal crash. At 12:45 a.m. Saturday, she was pulled over for driving nearly twice the 30-mile-per-hour speed limit.
Pamela Wells, 60, of South Hamilton, and Elise Bouchard, 52, of Danvers, were killed in the crash. Wells and Bouchard were friends who had practiced for the Tri-State Seacoast Century ride all summer, along with Margo Heigh, a Danvers woman injured in the crash. A fourth rider, Uwe Uhmeyer, 60, of Essex, was also injured in the crash.
Family members of the cyclists could not be reached Tuesday.
Hess, who was arrested Tuesday afternoon, was charged with two counts of each offense, which, if convicted, carry a maximum of seven years in prison. She is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday.
Reams said it was “too early to tell” whether additional charges would be filed against Hess. Reams would not say whether Hess was texting before the crash.
“We’ll follow this case where ever the evidence takes us,” he said, adding that witnesses are still being interviewed.
Pete Stidman, executive director of the Boston Cyclists Union, said large, organized rides are typically safer than riding alone, because bikers are more visible in a group.
Stidman said cyclists would take a measure of solace from the criminal charges.
“From all appearances this person shouldn’t have been on the road, and was driving erratically,” he said. “It’s a clear case when the police need to come down hard. We have to send a message to other drivers, especially younger drivers.”
In another fatal crash involving a cyclist, a 21-year-old from Massachusetts was killed in Ohio Monday evening when she was hit from behind by a sport utility vehicle.
Emilee Gagnon of Holliston was riding cross-county to California to raise money for a multiple sclerosis charity. The driver, a 49-year-old Ohio woman, was adjusting her visor to shield against the sun when she struck Gagnon, throwing her from her bicycle, law enforcement officials said. Gagnon was wearing a helmet but sustained fatal injuries.
Neither speed nor alcohol is considered a factor in the crash, which happened around 7:20 p.m. authorities said.
Gagnon was a free spirit who “grabbed life by the handfuls,” said the Rev. Bonnie Steinroeder of the First Congregational Church of Holliston, the church that Gagnon’s family attends. She was inspired to make the ride because of her grandfather, who has MS.
“She wanted to do this ride for him,” she said.
Gagnon was a cancer survivor herself, Steinroeder said, an experience that shaped her outlook on life.
“It made her pretty brave and it made her pretty tough,” she said. “She understood that you have to live every day to the fullest, and she did.”
Gagnon was a bright, vibrant presence who brought “joy to people’s lives,” she said.
“She lived life with great zest and gusto,” she said. “We would do well to live by her example.”
At Westfield State, Gagnon majored in art and minored in both French and ethnic and gender studies. She was named a Commonwealth Honors Scholar, a top academic distinction.
Jamie Wainright, a professor who chairs the art department, said Gagnon was a “delightful presence” known for her bright-colored clothes and creative hairstyles.
“She was literally a walking piece of art work herself,” she said. Gagnon had ridden in a number of charity cycling events, she said, and was a standout student.
A piece of Gagnon’s artwork is on display in the university’s honors center.
“Heartfelt sympathies from all of us at Westfield State University are with her family and many friends whose lives she touched so meaningfully,” university officials said in a statement.
The two recent fatal accidents follow the death of a 13-year-old boy in Hopkinton last week, who was struck by a 16-year-old driver as he rode his bike home.
The investigation into the crash is continuing; no charges have been filed.