October 13, 2013

New Sharon man’s May death was final blow for a promising life turned tragic

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

When John Pelletier was hit by a drunken driver in 1981, it took his life, not all at once, but inch by tragic inch.

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John Pelletier with his younger sister, Paula Pelletier, in 2005.

Contributed photo

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This home on Route 2 in New Sharon was where John Pelletier lived. Pelletier was left disabled from an accident in 1981 and was involved in another accident where he was killed near the home earlier this year.

Staff photo by David Leaming

Additional Photos Below

Maine statistics

In 2011, there were 1,168 alcohol-related crashes in Maine, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

These crashes resulted in 23 deaths and 853 injuries.

There were 7,275 drunken driving arrests in Maine in 2011. The Centers for Disease control estimates that only 1 percent of drunken driving episodes result in an arrest.

Pelletier’s younger sister, Paula Pelletier, who lives in Arizona, said their childhood in Fort Kent in the 1950s was the picture of happiness, with long summer evenings during which kids would play basketball or kick the can while their parents drank beer and watched.

“It was the golden age of the families,” she said.

Pelletier was an active child and enjoyed soccer, skiing, fishing, hunting, camping and bringing home tadpoles from a nearby swamp.

His real passion, science, was fueled by his first microscope, which he got when he was 8 years old.

“We’d look at our boogers,” his sister said. “On the glass slide. The fluid would move around and we thought it was worms. That’s what stopped us picking our noses.”

At school, she said, he was a class clown, always looking for ways to make his classmates laugh.

At 15, in a school essay about his own life, he noted that he drove his teachers crazy and raised “all-around heck.”

“What fate has in store for me I haven’t the faintest idea,” he wrote. “I don’t know what I want to succeed at yet, but I know I will enjoy it.”

Pelletier earned a bachelor’s degree in veterinary sciences in 1974 from the University of Maine and took a job for Lipman Poultry. Within a few years he was overseeing disease control for farms throughout the state.

He married, had a daughter, and moved to Winthrop, where he owned a beautiful home on Upper Narrows pond.

His sister went on to attend college in Utah. As she prepared for her final exams in spring of 1981, her parents called.

“They said, ‘You need to come. Your brother’s been in an accident,’” she said.

It was the same way they had opened a previous phone conversation before breaking the news that her grandparents had died.

“I asked, has he passed away?”

Her father paused.

“He said ‘No. But it doesn’t look good. If you want to see him, you have to come,’” she said.
That day, Pelletier became one of drunken driving’s tragic statistics.

The number of people killed in drunken driving accidents nationally — 10,000 each year — is often cited by public health groups as the most compelling argument to step up efforts against it.

But those who are injured by drunken drivers — estimated at 315,000 nationally by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a national advocacy organization — can suffer long-term effects that experts say are difficult to quantify, but are another compelling reason to curb drunken drivers.

On average, an American is injured by a drunken driver once every two minutes, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The organization said that a change in state law that will go into effect in December will reduce the number of both fatalities and injuries in Maine.

An accident and death

Pelletier, then 30, was in a car accident a little before 8 p.m. April 17, 1981.

He was riding east on U.S. Route 202 in a 1974 Ford Mustang driven by a friend, David Michaud, 24, also of Winthrop. 

A drunken driver in a 1966 Land Rover crossed the center line and the two cars collided head-on, according to newspaper accounts from the following day.

The cars were totaled, Michaud was killed, and Pelletier was rushed to the Kennebec Valley Medical Center in Augusta, where he remained in an induced coma, near death, for days.

A week later, he was transferred to Maine Medical Center in Portland with injuries that included a kidney so damaged it had to be removed, his spleen destroyed, his chest wall and pancreas bruised.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

John Pelletier worked as an inspector for Lipman Poultry before he was hit by a drunk driver in a 1981 car accident in Winthrop.

Contributed photo

click image to enlarge

Peter Winslow is pictured in his garage in New Sharon. Winslow said he worked on John Pelletier's vehicle and may have been his only area friend before he died in an accident earlier this year.

Staff photo by David Leaming


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