Sherri and Thomas Arrington had recently put an addition on their Alaska home so Thomas would have a workshop when he retired from teaching. And Sherri, already a retired teacher, had seen every state but Massachusetts when they touched down in Boston around 6 a.m. Friday for a three-week trek through New England.
A little more than two hours later, Thomas Arrington, a 69-year-old high school shop teacher, father of two, and grandfather of three, was killed on Interstate 95 in Danvers when a metal tool flew off a dump truck and crashed through the windshield of the rental car he was driving, State Police said.
“He would do anything for anyone,” a grieving Sherri Arrington, 68, said in a phone interview Friday afternoon at Logan Airport, shortly before she boarded a flight home. “He would help anyone with anything at any time.”
The couple was headed to New Hampshire for the first leg of their vacation at the time of the accident, she said. They had also planned to spend time in the Berkshires, Cape Cod, Maine, and Philadelphia.
“We had barely got in the car” at the time of the crash, she said. “We had probably been here an hour and a half.”
In a statement, Massachusetts State Police confirmed the Arringtons had arrived in Massachusetts on Friday morning for a trip, and that Thomas Arrington was driving their rental car when it was struck around 8:20 a.m. on the northbound side of the highway near exit 67B.
The agency said Arrington was driving a 2020 Ford Fusion when a screed, a tool used to level out freshly poured concrete, “pierced the windshield of the Fusion” and struck Arrington, who managed to stop the car before succumbing to his injuries.
He was pronounced dead at the scene. Sherri Arrington was taken to Beverly Hospital, where she was treated for minor injuries and released, State Police said.
Investigators determined the screed fell from a 2020 Ford F550 dump truck driven by a 21-year-old Lynn man, State Police said. The man, a Lynn construction company employee, had been driving in the second travel lane on the same side of the highway when the screed came loose, officials said.
“A short time after the incident the F550 operator ... identified himself to State Police and has been cooperative,” State Police said in a statement.
The agency didn’t immediately identify the driver or the company.
“No charges have been filed at this time; the ongoing investigation will determine if charges are warranted,” the statement said, adding that the matter remains under review by State Police and the Essex district attorney’s office.
Sherri Arrington said her 16-year-old grandson, who had helped put the addition on their home in Palmer, lamented that his grandfather will no longer be around to teach him things.
“His response was, ‘But I still had so much to learn from Grandpa,” she said. “My daughter said this morning, ‘My daddy [was] the best dad in the world.’ ... He would have done anything for his kids.”
She said they had looked forward to taking in the natural beauty of a New England fall during their vacation.
“This was going to be my 50th state,” she said of Massachusetts. “I would have seen them all. ... I grew up in the Midwest, and I wanted to see the pretty leaves that I hadn’t seen in years.”
Thomas Arrington was an auto shop teacher at San Gorgonio High School in San Bernadino, Calif. He had planned to retire at the end of the school year and rejoin his wife full time in Alaska, his daughter said.
Arrington could “fix anything and everything,” Jennifer Hoadley said.
He was a loving father, who made sure she knew how to change a car’s oil before she learned to drive.
“When I was a kid growing up, he used to say dads could do anything,” she said by telephone Friday afternoon. “I believed it, and I was in utter shock when I was 12 years old and learned that other people paid people to fix cars and build stuff.”
In the auto shop, Arrington enforced tight safety precautions. When she was in high school, he made her wear safety goggles as she roller skated on the shop floor.
“He never would have caused this kind of an accident,” she said, choking back tears.
Beyond teaching, the most important thing in Arrington’s life was his family, Hoadley said.
She recalled him picking up an extra job around the holidays so he could afford to buy more gifts for her and her brother.
When Hoadley was 3, she said, her father read her bedtime stories from a bed in a hospital intensive care unit as he recovered from a heart attack.
A few years ago, Sherri Arrington moved to Alaska to be with Hoadley and her children. Thomas Arrington would fly north to see them at any chance he could get.
He spent his final moments ensuring that his wife was safe, she said.
“Today, he used his last dying breath to get the car off the road and in park to save my mom’s life and the lives of the drivers all around him,” she said. “That’s my dad. That’s the kind of person he was.”
This incident involves a piece of metal that came off one vehicle and went through windshield of another, causing fatal injury. We will provide update later today when appropriate. Pls note we have not made notifications yet & ask any media on scene not to show victim’s vehicle. https://t.co/2XJPzi6yqk— Mass State Police (@MassStatePolice) October 1, 2021
Crash with serious injuries in #Danvers on I-95 NB. 2 Left lanes closed. Expect delays in the area.— Mass. Transportation (@MassDOT) October 1, 2021
Andrew Brinker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewnbrinker. Travis Andersen can be reached at email@example.com.