A recently retired Townsend, Mass., police sergeant and his wife were killed Thursday night when a wrong-way driver crashed into their vehicle on Route 101 in Epping, N.H., and investigators believe “impairment was a factor,” according to New Hampshire State Police.
Townsend Police Chief Richard B. Bailey confirmed that Sergeant John Johnson, who retired last summer, and his wife, Heidi, were victims of the deadly crash.
“It is with great sadness that I am sharing news of the tragic death of Sgt. John Johnson and his wife in a car crash,” Bailey said in a statement posted to the department’s official Facebook page. “Sgt. Johnson has served the Townsend community since 1978. Please take time to remember this fine officer and his family. We will share additional details on the funeral arrangements as they become available.”
Bailey said Johnson had retired in July. According to a statement from the Townsend Board of Selectmen, Johnson was on the force for 39 years and he continued to serve the community as “a reserve officer and as a tireless community volunteer.”
The town, according to the statement, will be providing grief counseling services to public safety workers and other staff.
The board also offered its condolences.
“We extend our thoughts and prayers to their family and to our Townsend Police Department family,” the statement read.
A number of people posted messages of sympathy in response to Bailey’s announcement, including Lisa Lane McCarthy, academy director of the Police Program at Fitchburg State University.
“I am heartbroken by this news,” McCarthy wrote. “John was a good man and a dedicated police officer. I have known him for 28 years since I met him in the DA’s Office in Ayer in 1991. He should have been able to enjoy his retirement — he earned it. My thoughts are with you all as well as his family. Such a tragedy.”
Her words were echoed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.
“Today we are holding Sergeant John Johnson and his wife Heidi in our hearts,” Healey said via Twitter. “Our thoughts are with their loved ones, the Townsend Police Department, and the people of Townsend as they grapple with this tragedy.”
New Hampshire State Police also offered condolences.
“Our thoughts are with the Townsend Police Dept and the Johnson family during this difficult time,” the agency said on its official Twitter page. “We thank Sergeant John Johnson and his wife Heidi for their service to the community.”
State Police received a report of a wrong-way driver on Route 101 West near Exit 7 around 11:41 p.m. Thursday, just moments before the fatal crash, the agency said in a separate statement.
State Police said Ryan Kittredge, 31, of Derry, N.H., was driving a 1998 Dodge 1500 pickup and allegedly made a U-turn somewhere in the area of Exit 7 and was traveling east in the westbound lane when the crash occurred.
State Police said a 2008 Chevrolet Impala traveling west in the righthand lane was unable to avoid the collision with the Dodge pickup. The driver of the Impala, Johnson, 58, and his passenger, Heidi, 57, were both pronounced dead at the scene. The couple lived in New Ipswich, N.H.
Kittredge suffered serious injuries and was rushed to Exeter Hospital and then taken by medical helicopter to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, State Police said. Authorities said charges are expected.
“This investigation is ongoing however we do believe impairment was a factor in the causation of this crash,” State Police Lieutenant John R. Hennessey said in an e-mail. “There are no charges pending at this time, but that could change as this investigation progresses.”
State Police Trooper Daniel R. Quartulli of the agency’s Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Unit added that “the investigation is ongoing and all aspects of the crash, to include impairment, are being looked at and charges are expected.”
Kittredge pleaded guilty in 2015 to drunken driving in New Hampshire and was fined $1,240 and ordered to participate in an impaired driver care management program, court records show. He also had his license suspended for 18 months, a period that was later reduced to a year, according to legal filings.
At the time of his guilty plea, a second count of “DUI 2nd or 3rd; Impairment,” was dismissed, court records indicate. Information on any prior incidents in New Hampshire wasn’t immediately available.
After the collision, a third vehicle crashed into Kittredge’s pickup truck. State Police said Andrew Neeper, 23, of Raymond, N.H., was traveling west in a 2015 Ford Fusion and “was unable to see the vehicles blocking the roadway as they were completely dark” and ended up crashing into the 1998 Dodge pickup. Neeper was taken to the Exeter hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries, State Police said.
State Police said Route 101 West at Exit 7 was closed for several hours after the crash, and the New Hampshire Collision Analysis and Reconstruction (CAR) Unit was requested to respond to the scene and assist with the investigation.
Anyone with information related to the crash is asked to contact Quartulli at 603-223-8993 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hudson, N.H., police also paid tribute to the deceased couple Friday.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of veteran Townsend, MA Police Officer Sergeant John Johnson and his wife Heidi, as well as the members of the Townsend Police Department,” the department said via Twitter.
The Hill, N.H., Police Department responded to the tragic news as well.
“Served his community since 1978,” Hill police officials posted on Facebook. “Resident of New Ipswich. We have the watch from here sir.”