Even at slow speeds, a 30-pound pumpkin can do a lot of damage when it’s struck by a moving car.
Add an unavoidable row of massive pumpkins inexplicably stretched across an unlit country highway during a foggy evening, and the effect can be nerve-wracking for an unsuspecting motorist.
Such was the case last Thursday at about 11:30 p.m., after a booze-fueled stunt on Route 9J caused significant damage to a vehicle that plowed through the barrier, police said. The vehicle’s college-age driver was spooked enough that she kept driving until her car seized up farther down the road, police said.
Police Chief Christopher Lavin said the young woman had deliberately slowed down well below the 55 mph speed limit because she was nervous about the lack of visibility caused by the fog. Still, when she came upon the row of pumpkins — some weighing in excess of 30 pounds — she had no time to react.
Lavin said the driver, upon crashing through the barrier, also was frightened by not knowing if someone was trying to deliberately force her from the road for a more sinister reason. Little did she know that a group of people drinking beer in a darkened drive a short distance away had set up the wall of pumpkins pilfered from the nearby Gold Krest Farm stand as a gag, and were hoping to watch motorists frantically swerve to avoid them, police said.
“It did exactly what they wanted it to do,” Lavin said.
A friend of farm owner Chris Webb alerted him and his son to the pumpkins just prior to the crash. His son quickly drove down to the farm stand and was able to block one of the vehicles from leaving until authorities came.
Inside were Nicholas J. Sousa, 24, of Clifton Park, and Christina M. Adams, 22, of Rensselaer. Both were arrested on the charges of trespassing and criminal mischief.
Sousa also was charged with driving while intoxicated, unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and driving without insurance. Lavin said Sousa failed field sobriety tests and failed a breath test administered after his arrest.
Webb’s son was unable to stop a second vehicle, which swerved around him and escaped, police said. But police later identified the fleeing suspect as Daniel H. Weidman Jr., 24, of East Greenbush, who was arrested Saturday on the charges of reckless endangerment, criminal mischief and trespassing.
All three were sent to the Rensselaer County Jail, where they were later released on $5,000 bail.
Lavin criticized the three for the reckless and seemingly mindless act. He said they were fortunate to only cause property damage in staging a stunt that could have easily caused a serious accident.
“This was pretty foolhardy and dangerous behavior,” he said. “These weren’t 12-year-olds, but they were acting like 12-year-olds.”
Webb estimated the trio caused upward of $2,000 in damages. He wasn’t sure how many pumpkins the suspects rolled, dragged and smashed on the roadway, but believed it was a large number considering that he needed a bucket loader to clear the debris.
“They did quite a lot of damage,” he said.
Webb’s ire was further fueled by the apparent reaction by one of the men arrested by police. He said the man simply laughed off the damage the stunt caused.
“They thought it was a joke,” he said.
Webb did credit Adams, who he said showed up at his farm on Friday to apologize for her role. He said she even offered to work on his farm to help pay off the damage the group caused last week.
“At least she’s trying to do something,” he said.
Gold Krest was among the farms along the Hudson River devastated during Tropical Storm Irene last year. Flooding wiped out all of Webb’s crops, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage.
“This year, I had a good crop and they’re smashing them all,” he said.