WAKEFIELD, N.H. — Authorities say an unlicensed driver may have been attempting to pass another vehicle Tuesday when he crashed head-on into a car carrying four US Secret Service agents who were in the area to help protect Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The driver, 45-year-old Bruce Danforth, died in the crash, which injured the four Secret Service agents and two of Danforth’s passengers. Investigators are seeking to verify a report that Danforth was trying to pass another vehicle driving north on the icy, hilly road.
“That vehicle obviously did not stop,” New Hampshire State Police Lieutenant Kevin Duffy said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon at Wakefield Public Safety Building. “If you were in that vehicle or you were driving that vehicle, please contact New Hampshire State Police.
Danforth was driving north around 7:03 p.m. Tuesday in a Mercury Sable on Route 16 — in an area known as Wakefield Hill — when his vehicle crossed over the center line and smashed into the southbound Ford Taurus carrying the on-duty agents, police said.
Duffy said a preliminary investigation found there was “no improper driving at all on behalf of the Secret Service agents.”
Wakefield Police Chief Kenneth Fifield said everyone hurt in the crash suffered “serious bodily injury.”
Police released little information about the condition of the agents, but said all were wearing seat belts and that they were taken to Frisbie Memorial Hospital in Rochester for treatment.
The Secret Service said in a statement that the agents had suffered “serious, but non-life threatening injuries.’’
“Please join us as we keep all the victims of this accident and their families in our thoughts and prayers,’’ the agency said.
Two passengers in Danforth’s vehicle, his girlfriend, Natasha Meroski, 35, and a friend, Kristina Buswell, 21, were hospitalized, police said. Buswell owns the Mercury Sable, Duffy said.
Fifield said Danforth, who listed addresses in Ossipee, did not have a valid driver’s license. Court records show Danforth has been repeatedly cited by police for driving with a suspended license between 2010 and 2015.
“Mr. Danforth was known to us and he has an extensive criminal history,” Fifield said. “We are looking into what may have contributed or caused the accident.”
The Union Leader newspaper reported that Danforth was recently arrested for drug possession in Methuen. Methuen police did not comment on the report Wednesday. A spokesman for the Essex district attorney’s office said Danforth did not appear in court for a scheduled arraignment.
Search warrants have been obtained for the two vehicles involved in the crash, police said.
In a statement, Clinton said she was “saddened and concerned to hear about the serious accident.”
“My husband and I send our prayers and condolences to all the victims and their families,” Clinton added. “We are grateful every day for the service, dedication, and professionalism of the US Secret Service.”
The crash backed up traffic on both sides of Route 16 near Wilson Road, residents said.
Angela Zakupowsky, who lives on Wilson Road, said she heard sirens, and some people had called her house to ask whether she was all right.
“I could hear them out there until quarter of two this morning cleaning up,” Zakupowsky said, adding that the area “was lit up with emergency sirens.”
She said she attempted to get a better view of the crash scene, but shadows from spotlights that emergency crews were using made it difficult to see.
The stretch of highway where the crash occurred has a reputation for being treacherous, Zakupowsky said. The weather conditions were also difficult. The neighborhood was hit with a mix of snow and rain Tuesday, she said.
“We drive that hill every day and it’s a difficult hill to get up,” Zakupowsky said. “This is a very dangerous stretch of highway.”
She said she had read some social media posts lashing out at the Secret Service agents for the crash.
“They are jumping to blame the agents, politics, and Hillary Clinton,” Zakupowsky said. “People need to stop and realize there are accidents.”
Pat Anderson, who also lives nearby, said she was surprised to hear that agents were involved in the crash.
“I was wondering why they were here without Hillary,” she said. “Maybe it was shift change.”
Clinton was the only presidential candidate with Secret Service protection who was in New Hampshire Tuesday.
Her campaign had an event scheduled at a high school north of the crash. The four injured agents were part of the agency’s coverage of the Clinton campaign, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the case.