Gerard Spadory unwittingly became the latest in a grim series of statistics over the weekend.
The 51-year-old North Haven, Connecticut, man was driving his four-dour Acura south on Route 9 when he attempted to pull a U-turn about a 100 yards away from Exit 13 on the Northway. Spadory went onto the southbound shoulder and attempted to cross both lanes of oncoming traffic to head north when a Dodge pickup struck his vehicle around 7 p.m. Saturday.
Spadory was killed instantly, joining a growing list of fatal accidents that occur almost annually along the busy seven-mile stretch of the four-lane highway running between the Malta roundabouts and the entrance to the Saratoga Spa State Park. Including Spadory’s crash, there have been at least seven fatal accidents along Route 9 over the past seven years, including three since January 2012.
The accidents vary considerably in circumstance, so there’s no one specific cause that can be pinpointed. In the case of Spadory, the decision to make an illegal U-turn in a sloped area of the roadway where visibility may have been limited for other southbound drivers likely was to blame, said Trooper Mark Ceipel, a state police spokesman.
“This gentleman was making a U-turn in an arterial,” he said Monday.
Ceipel wasn’t sure where Spadory and his three passengers were headed Saturday evening, but the accident occurred around the time when the Dave Matthews Band was taking the stage at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The accident, which initially caused major traffic snarls, was cleared shortly before the concert let out around 11 p.m.
SPAC concerts have been tangentially linked to at least two other fatal accidents on Route 9 over the past four years.
Last summer, a motorcyclist was killed by the main park access road after attending the Luke Bryan concert.
Christopher T. Thomas, 26, of Troy, was traveling at a high rate of speed on his Yamaha when he crashed into a sport utility vehicle turning into the park. Eyewitnesses later told police that Thomas and another motorcyclist attempted to speed through a yellow light before he hit the SUV.
Another concert-related fatality occurred following a Dave Matthews performance in 2010 at SPAC. Edward Bernys, 42, was walking back to his room at the Top of the Hill Motel just before midnight when he was struck in the northbound lanes as he tried to cross Route 9.
Much of the stretch is posted at 55 mph, and it’s not uncommon for traffic to exceed this speed limit. The highway is four lanes wide before narrowing to two lanes just north of the park, where the speed limit drops to 40 mph.
Saratoga Springs officials asked the state Department of Transportation to lower the speed limit on Route 9 to 45 mph within the city limits — a stretch that runs almost as far south as Northway Exit 13. Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen said the lower speed limit would make safer an area of Route 9 with a number of existing businesses and more on the horizon.
“We are especially concerned about some of the areas where there is a lot of commercial activity,” he said.
Commercial stretches of Route 9 in Clifton Park and Malta have a 45 mph speed limit. But transportation department officials weren’t receptive to the concept, indicating the road doesn’t have the accident record to justify the change.
Likewise, law-enforcement officers don’t consider Route 9 to be particularly dangerous. Most fatal accidents on the road have a special circumstance — whether pedestrian or driver error — that contributes to the outcome of the crash.
Transportation department studies show Route 9 is statistically safer than similar roads throughout the state. The accident rate between Malta and the Avenue of Pines in Saratoga Springs is 3.08 per million vehicle miles traveled, which is significantly less than the 4.25 accidents per million vehicle miles traveled on similar roads.
Still, this stretch had 15 fatalities between January 2006 and October 2013, six involving pedestrians. DOT spokesman Brian Viggiani said Tuesday that even with the number of deaths, the road is still statistically safer than most and that some of the fatal accidents simply involve errors on the part of motorists or pedestrians.
“If pedestrians and especially drivers use the road as it’s designed, we believe it is safe,” he said.
Richard Castle, chief deputy of the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department, had a difficult time classifying Route 9 as dangerous, considering its design. Most of it is wide and straight, allowing motorists to see far ahead of where they’re traveling.
“It is a very heavily traveled roadway,” he said. “But there’s not much along that stretch of road that would contribute to it being dangerous.”
Ceipel agreed. Even with its record of fatalities, he said minor accidents are more likely than serious crashes along that stretch of road.
“Certainly it’s a busy area,” he said. “But it’s not nearly troublesome.”