Town settles over icy roads

$450,000 awarded to crash victim

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

The Town of Williston has agreed to pay $450,000 to settle a claim from a car accident involving icy roads last December.

Kaitlyn George, age 51 at the time of the accident, suffered what Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire called “life-altering injuries” on Dec. 4, 2005.

George lost control of her car as she was driving north on Oak Hill Road on what police later said were icy and snowy roads that afternoon. George was pinned beneath her car, police said, and rescued by passersby.

George could not be reached for comment this week to outline the extent of her injuries. George’s attorney, Robert Luce of the firm Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC, said George’s current health is a matter of privacy and something he is not at liberty to discuss.

In her claim, George alleged that Williston’s road crew “was slow to respond to the hazardous road conditions that were caused by the snowstorm,” McGuire said. “The town’s response that day was slow,” he acknowledged.

The settlement agreement was reached in an Oct. 9 mediation process, McGuire said, and ratified by the Williston Selectboard on Nov. 6. The town’s liability insurance, offered through the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, will cover all but the $500 deductible of the town’s policy. McGuire said without the settlement, there would have been a lawsuit.

This is the first time the town has paid such a settlement in McGuire’s time as town manager, he said. McGuire has been town manager since February 1998.

A breakdown in the communication system is believed to be what delayed the roads being cleared earlier on the day of the accident, McGuire said. On Sundays, the State Police is responsible for dispatching calls. According to McGuire, the road foreman was paged to respond to the road conditions after a localized snowstorm. However, McGuire said the foreman did not have his pager on because he was home. Though state police paged the road foreman repeatedly without a response, McGuire said they did not contact the next person on the list, as the protocol requires.

“We’ve worked with both the Essex and state police to clarify the proper procedures for when we have emergency calls like that, so we don’t have an incident like that happen again,” McGuire said.

Essex police also may dispatch the Williston Public Works crew.

McGuire indicated that allegations last fall that the town failed to clear another road in an emergency were false. On Nov. 22, a two-engine airplane crashed near Partridge Hill Road, a dirt road off Oak Hill Road, during a snowstorm. The road was unable to be immediately accessed by responding fire personnel, according to police.

“The town does not have responsibility for maintaining private roads,” McGuire said, noting that Partridge Hill Road is private. “We did end up getting our crew there to clean it up because of the emergency situation. Some people … thought that road should have been cleaned before the accident. Maybe, but it wasn’t the town’s responsibility.”