Sen. Flanagan seriously hurt in crash
MONTPELIER — Sen. Edward Flanagan, D-Chittenden, was seriously injured in a car crash early Friday near the Richmond exit of Interstate 89.
Details of the accident were sketchy Friday night, but it appears Flanagan's 2003 Saturn skidded about 275 feet into a gully where it was not visible from the road. It flipped onto its roof, according to Vermont State Police.
Flanagan, 54, was not found until the middle of Friday afternoon and was unconscious in the vehicle for several hours, police said.
"You could not pick a worse spot for your vehicle not to be seen," said Capt. William Sheets.
The wreck was finally spotted by a 19-year-old passenger in a full-sized pickup truck.
"And even he was really trying to look down there because he was looking for deer," Sheets said. "Had it not been for that good fortune, this vehicle could have been there considerably longer."
The first-term senator and former state auditor suffered head injuries and hypothermia, rescue officials said, and was taken to Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington.
"His external injuries did not appear to be life-threatening," said Jonathan Thereault, a paramedic and emergency medical technician with the Richmond Rescue Squad. "There were no obvious fractures or external bleeding."
Thereault, who helped get Flanagan out of his vehicle and to the hospital, said the senator likely had internal head injuries. His body temperature dropped significantly because he was trapped inside the car for hours before anybody found him, the paramedic said.
"He was definitely cold," Thereault said. "The investigation indicated he may have been there all day."
The senator suffered "a head injury from what we found; something going on in the brain," Thereault said.
Flanagan's longtime partner, Isaac Lustgarten, declined a phone interview. Fletcher Allen officials would not release information at the family's request.
Road conditions early Friday morning along I-89 in Chittenden County were icy, slowing rush-hour traffic to 20 mph in some locations.
"We got the call at 2:30 in the afternoon and we had him at Fletcher Allen about 3 p.m.," Thereault said.
The car came to rest in "a small, swampy brook area," the paramedic said. "It was very obstructed and over a bank. From the road you couldn't see it."
Thereault said Flanagan's car was headed north on the Exit 11 off-ramp when it left the road.
"The ramp is very curvy," said Sen. James Leddy, D-Chittenden, chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on which Flanagan serves. "Apparently his car went straight and did not make the curve and may very well not have been seen for some time before it was discovered."
Flanagan was elected state auditor in 1992 and held the office until 2000, when he stepped down to mount an unsuccessful challenge to U.S. Sen. James Jeffords.
Flanagan is widely recognized for his work on prison reform and health care and was among the first statewide elected officials in the nation to declare that he is gay.
The Burlington resident returned to Montpelier in 2004 when he won election to the state Senate.
"It's a sad day not only for the Senate Democrats, but for the state as a whole," said Senate majority leader John Campbell, D-Windsor. "He has always been a tough guy, a bulldog. Hopefully he will pull through this all right. Our prayers are with him."
Senate President Pro Tem Peter Welch, D-Windsor, called Flanagan an "extremely constructive force" in Vermont politics.
"Edward is one of my closest friends, and one of the most generous people I've ever known in politics," Welch said. "He is a peacemaker and conciliator. … He is very genuine and much loved in the Senate."
A motorist who passed the accident site said that more than a dozen State Police cruisers, as well as fire trucks and an ambulance, were still at the scene as late as 4:30 p.m. Police used a crane to pull the car out of the gully.
"He is being evaluated at Fletcher Allen," said Jason Gibbs, a spokesman for Gov. James Douglas, declining to comment further.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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