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June 9, 2004

Charges are likely in fatal accident, police say

From: Lowell Sun, MA - Jun 9, 2004

By PETER WARD, Sun Staff

LOWELL Police today expect to issue one or more traffic charges against the 22-year-old driver of a sport utility vehicle that fatally injured an elderly blind woman as the vehicle backed out of the driveway.

Police said they may charge Vanessa Alves of 22 Third Ave. with failing to use caution when backing.

"But you always have to yield to any pedestrian on a sidewalk at a minimum. That's what we're looking at," said Lt. Thomas Meehan, commander of the traffic division. "We're looking at other extenuating circumstances and whether there will be other charges."

The victim, Armande Landry, 88, of 16 Third Ave., was struck at the base of the driveway next door as she was walking alone, slowly. Her son, Paul Landry, watched in disbelief from his front porch.

Detectives yesterday learned that the victim was deaf, totally sightless in the right eye and had about 20 percent sight in her left eye. She wasn't using a cane or walker, said Meehan.

Landry was initially walking north on Third Avenue away from her home, then abruptly reversed directions near the point where she was struck.

"It was not, 'I forgot something so I've got to go back.' It was more like she (walked) her little loop," Meehan said.

The question of whether Alves may have observed Landry walk past, then thought the driveway was clear was uncertain, Meehan said.

Landry died at Lowell General Hospital a short time after the 3:45 p.m. incident.

It remained unclear if the SUV rolled over or dragged the victim, who a witness said was still breathing but trapped, half her body beneath the vehicle's passenger side.

"She got caught up in the undercarriage, and it was not a great distance," Meehan said.

Detectives haven't ruled out a more serious charge of motor vehicle homicide, said Meehan.

The two-detective accident reconstruction team ruled out driver-impairment and determined that Alves' silver Mercedes-Benz ML320 SUV was working properly, said Capt. William Taylor, police spokesman.

Taylor and Meehan, both veteran police officers, said backing-up accidents are rare.

"It is unusual. I can't recall one," Taylor said. "But anytime you have pedestrians and motor vehicles trying to occupy the same space, the potential (for danger) exists."

Monday's incident is even rarer because of the victim's handicap, which detectives must assess as a potential factor in the accident.

"That's part of the investigation," said Taylor. "They'll look at it from every angle."

Peter Ward's e-mail address is .

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