October 01, 2022

Phish phans: Homeward Bound> One man on way home killed in I-95 accident

HOULTON — It was deja vu Monday as 70,800 Phish phans reversed direction and hit the road south for home, causing numerous delays and traffic jams. One person returning from the weekend concert was killed and another seriously injured in a single-vehicle accident on Interstate 95 in Edinburg, south of Howland.

Meanwhile, at the Loring Commerce Centre in Limestone, discussions were already under way about having another concert next year.

“I would do it again in a second,” said Brian Hamel, president of the Loring Development Authority of Maine.

Hamel said Monday he has had preliminary talks with Great Northeast Productions Inc., the Phish concert promoters, about an event next year. No commitments were made, but materials that were used to build the wall around the concert area are being stored on the former Air Force base, Hamel said.

At Edinburg, John Schlesinger, 23, of Round Ridge, N.Y., was killed when the van in which he was riding rolled over several times.

Mary Swerczek, 21, of Omaha, Neb., suffered head injuries in that crash. She was listed in critical condition at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

Two other people and the driver, Lockhart Steele, 23, of Manchester, Mass., were not seriously injured.

Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine State Police, said the van was owned by Schlesinger’s parents, and John Schlesinger had turned over driving duties to Steele a few hours earlier.

According to police, Steele fell asleep at the wheel at about 9 a.m. while driving south from the Phish concert. The van drifted into the passing lane and then the median.

Steele overcorrected, causing the van to roll over three or four times, finally coming to rest on its wheels in the trees off the right side of the road.

Other occupants of the van told Trooper Gerald Pearson that Steele had had slept for only about eight hours over the weekend.

McCausland said police were very concerned because there were literally thousands of people who left the concert and were driving on I-95 and the Maine Turnpike with very little sleep.

There was also a Phish-related accident in Ashland Monday afternoon. A Massachusetts man crossed the center line on Route 227 and struck the back of a NYNEX truck, causing his car to roll over. The driver of the NYNEX truck and the Phish phans escaped serious injuries.

Phish finished its concert at the Loring Commerce Centre in Limestone at about 2 a.m. Monday, but some phans reportedly left before that to beat the crush of traffic that was expected along the 60-mile route to I-95.

Some made it to Houlton where they decided to stop for the night, turning the rest area there into a campground.

Scores of people, sometimes five to a car, spent the night pressed against each other in contorted positions as they slept in their vehicles. The more fortunate slept under the stars in sleeping bags or in tents.

Other phans drove with little or no rest. State police reported numerous accidents throughout the day, many attributed to driver fatigue.

According to Hamel, the two miles of runway at the LCC were scheduled to be cleared by 4 p.m. The site was reported to be almost clear by that time, although a few concert goers were expected to hang around until nightfall.

On the former U.S. Air Force base, there were discarded Styrofoam coolers, empty beer boxes and plastic bags blowing along the runway. Piles of bagged garbage, as well as loose trash, also were seen on the concert area.

Hamel anticipated that the cleanup effort could last up to a week.

The festive mood that was evident Friday as phans headed to Limestone was gone Monday. There was a lot less honking of horns, cheering at the locals and blowing bubbles out of car windows.

By Monday, it was all business, as groggy-looking drivers stuck in traffic leaned against steering wheels while their passengers cat-napped in the back seat.

There were major traffic jams in Limestone, Easton, Mars Hill and Houlton, with top speeds at times no more than 5 miles an hour. It took as long as two hours to make the trip from Presque Isle to Houlton, twice as long as normal. Traffic jams of 4 or 5 miles were common.

Because of the congestion, at the request of state police school in Caribou, Easton, Limestone, Fort Fairfield, Presque Isle and Houlton was called off.

Frustrated by stalled traffic on Route 1, many departing Phish phans got out of cars to walk ahead. New jams developed when drivers stopped to pick them up again.

For others, it was the call of nature that brought them to a stop. At one spot on Route 1 in Littleton, a clump of trees was suddenly turned into an impromptu rest stop for more than a half-dozen men.

On Route 1A, impatient drivers turned the northbound lane into another lane going south. In other areas, breakdown lanes doubled as southbound lanes.

Roadside merchants who on Friday could be found selling cookies, soda, lemonade and blue tarps were gone Monday. One person in Monticello, however, had two Volkswagen Beetles for sale on the front lawn, an obvious attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the VW vans driven by many of the phans.

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