Rollover crash kills soldier on I-81 exit, raising concerns about area’s safety

Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 11:01 AM EDT
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PAMELIA, New York (WWNY) - A soldier was killed in one-vehicle rollover crash in the town of Pamelia Wednesday morning.

Officials at the scene say a soldier driving a red pickup truck was getting off Interstate 81 onto I-781 toward Fort Drum around 9:30 a.m. when the vehicle rolled over.

As of around 10:30 a.m. crews were working to free the driver --the sole occupant -- from the vehicle

“State police are still investigating,” Pamelia Fire Chief Harry Faulk Jr. said. “I’m sure we’ll have some MPs coming out here soon. We have an Army chaplain that’s here on scene, also.”

The crash raises concerns again for local first responders who are adding Wednesday’s emergency to the list of several on the relatively new I-781, which opened in 2012.

These first responders say in the last decade, they’ve seen more crashes along that stretch of highway than they can count. They think speed is the problem.

“It’s just so frequent lately. It’s hard to keep a count on it,” said Pamelia Fire Chief Harry Faulk Jr. “From little, minor - people just glancing off a guard rail, to vehicles rolling over an embankment.”

In the last year, there have been at least three crashes at the on- and off-ramps for I-81.

In October and again in March, a tractor-trailer overturned into an embankment while turning onto the ramp for I-81 south.

In 2016, there was a motorcycle crash in the same area.

Not all the emergencies are life-threatening, but it worries Leah Murphy with the Evans Mills Ambulance Squad, who believes people need to remember how sharp the on- and off-ramps are.

“People don’t realize when it says 40-45, they mean 40-45 miles per hour,” she said.

It’s not just that stretch of I-781 either. Fatal accidents have been reported on the other end of I-781, where it connects to Route 11 near Fort Drum’s main gate.

A crash in March killed a long-time fire instructor. The very next day, there was a head-on collision in nearly the same spot. That crash sent two people to the hospital.

“That intersection is just as dangerous. There’s a lot of blind spots in that intersection. So, both ends of 781 are pretty dangerous,” said Murphy.

To be clear, there’s no indication speed was a factor in Wednesday morning’s fatal crash. It’s still under investigation. We also reached out to the state transportation department to see if it has heard concerns about speed on I-781, but the DOT had no comment.

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