WOONSOCKET — An unlicensed teenager was traveling almost 100 mph before crashing a relative’s car on Mendon Road and suffering injuries that left him hospitalized with grievous injuries early Friday.
Cesar Leon, 16, broadsided a utility pole with such force the Accord he was driving nearly split in two. Members of the Woonsocket Fire Department worked feverishly to free Leon from the mangled wreck before he was transported by Lifeflight helicopter to UMass Medical Center in Worcester, where he was in critical condition as of press time, according to Police Chief Thomas F. Oates III.
The crash happened moments after officers from the neighboring Cumberland Police Department clocked a vehicle they believe was Leon’s doing 95 mph. The officers were stationed at a fixed radar post on Route 99 at about 12:30 a.m. when the vehicle raced past them as they stood outside their cruiser, armed with a radar gun, on the side of the highway.
By the time the CPD officers returned to their cruiser, the sedan was already turning left onto Cumberland Hill Road into the city, at the end of Route 99. The officers followed, but by then they’d lost sight of the vehicle, which had been going so fast they were never able to obtain the make, model or registration plate.
“Our guys never got close to that car,” said Cumberland Police Chief John Desmarais. “The car was going so fast, they couldn’t even say if it was the same car that was involved in the crash.”
While the Cumberland police were never able to draw a solid bead on the vehicle, Desmarais said they returned to their cruiser and began traveling in the same direction. The officers didn’t realize it had turned right onto Mendon Road, so they kept traveling on Cumberland Hill Road. They turned left into the parking lot of a car dealership around Fortin Drive and looked around, then doubled back.
When they reached the Cumberland Farms store at the junction of Mendon and Cumberland Hill roads, they saw a Woonsocket police cruiser in the parking lot and stopped to see if the officer had any information about a speeding car.
Oates said the Cumberland police officers spoke to several witnesses at the Cumberland Farms, including the city police officer and a civilian who had seen the Accord whiz past the convenience store.
“We had a witness there who thought the car was traveling in excess of 100 mph,” said Oates.
Around the same time the Cumberland officers arrived at the convenience store, Oates said, the dispatch center at Woonsocket police headquarters began receiving 911 calls about a crash on Mendon Road.
Officers answering the call discovered a youth trapped in a twisted wreck, wrapped around a utility pole opposite Newbury Avenue. Several Woonsocket Fire Department vehicles were directed to the scene, at which point first responders used a power saw and other tools to free Leon, the sole occupant, from the vehicle.
“They spent quite a bit of time trying to get him out,” said Oates. “They used a bunch of different tools trying to get him out. It was pretty horrific damage to the car. It was basically cut in half.”
The WPD’s accident reconstruction team is still piecing together the sequence of events leading up to the crash. Preliminarily, Oates said, it appears the operator, due to excessive speed, lost control on a curve near Newbury Avenue and may have veered across the center line before somehow careening back to his travel lane and, with great force, broadsiding the utility pole on the driver’s side. A trail of skid marks at the base of the pole looks more like a chaotic smudge than a clear tire tread.
Paramedics transported Leon to Renaud Field, about a quarter mile away. There, a Lifeflight helicopter picked him up for transportation to the Worcester hospital.
Oates called Leon’s condition “obviously very critical” yesterday afternoon, but officials at UMass declined to release any information.
While police were still working to learn more about Leon’s activities before the crash, Oates said Friday that he apparently has family ties here and in Central Falls. The chief said his mother lives in the neighboring city and that he is staying with other relatives in an apartment in the Morin Heights Boulevard Family Housing Development. He is a student at Woonsocket High School.
Where he was coming from when the accident took place is unknown, the chief said.
At 16, Leon was old enough to qualify for a driver’s license, but he did not have one and there is no evidence he ever applied for one, Oates said. Nor had the police department received any reports prior to the crash that the vehicle had been stolen or driven off without the owner’s permission.
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo