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Athol woman killed in crash on Route 2; Latest in long list of `Death Valley' fatalities.

Byline: M. Elizabeth Roman

PHILLIPSTON - A 50-year-old Athol woman was pronounced dead at the scene of a two-vehicle head-on crash that occurred at about 3:10 p.m. on a section of Route 2 known as "Death Valley."

State police identified the woman as Rhonda S. Morand of Athol and said she was driving a 1990 Oldsmobile sedan. They said she was driving east between Exits 18 and 19 when a westbound 2006 Kia SUV, driven by Joanne Martin, 39, of Jaffrey, N.H., crossed the center lane. Ms. Martin was taken to Athol Memorial Hospital with minor injuries.

Edward Peters, 66, of Fitchburg, was a passenger in the Oldsmobile and was taken by ambulance to Heywood Hospital in Gardner and then to UMass Memorial Medical Center - University Campus, in Worcester, with minor injuries.

Traffic was diverted to Route 2A around the site of the crash for about two hours.

The carnage documented on this particular stretch of highway, where Route 2 shrinks from four lanes to two, has been noted since it was built in the 1950s. Since then, more than two-dozen people have died on this 30-mile length of road.

"There's a perceptual issue that you're driving on a divided highway," state Sen. Stephen M. Brewer, D-Barre, said last night. "I've been driving it for years. You really have to kind of self-alert."

He said the area is not the best road in Massachusetts.

"But it's a quantum leap from where it was," he said.

About five months ago, four-foot-high stanchions were installed beginning where the four-lane Route 2 shrinks to two lanes near the Athol-Phillipston line. The plastic paddles are attached to a raised plastic section running along the center of the road.

The paddles fall over if struck by cars.

"It's a double-edged sword," John R. Seamon, Route 2 Advisory Committee member, said. "We tried to make the road safer by giving drivers a visual reminder: `This is a split highway, you can't pass here. Stay on your own side.'"

The state Highway Department is completing ramp work and will widen three to five bridges. The cost is estimated at $40 million, according to Mr. Brewer.

Mr. Seamon said members of the task force, which include members from all affected communities from Greenfield to Phillipston, met March 29.

"Improvements include ramps, widening of the road, improved intersections and bridge improvement," Mr. Seamon said.

Mr. Seamon has been a task force member for the past 12 years. Safety improvements began in 1998 after a series of fatal crashes.

In October 1998 four young women were killed and a pickup truck driver injured. In September, a mother and her 16-year-old daughter were killed; a baby in the vehicle survived.

ART: PHOTO

PHOTOG: T&G Staff/RICK CINCLAIR

CUTLINE: The scene of yesterday's fatal crash on Route 2.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 6, 2007
Words:469
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