New England Newspapers
POWNAL, Vt. -- A Bennington woman is facing charges after she allegedly came close to hitting firefighters and the town constable as she sped past them while they battled a blaze at Mahican Moccasins on Route 7 on Thursday.
Colleen Pronto, 51, was cited for excessive speed and attempting to elude police, said Pownal Town Constable Albert Lafontaine.
The fire Pronto drove past destroyed the moccasin shop, and several firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion and dehydration, as temperatures had been in the 90s.
Lafontaine said he was directing traffic at the intersection of North Pownal Road and Route 7 when, at about 7:45 p.m., a vehicle heading south ignored police stationed at Center Street and Route 7, speeding past them at what he estimated was 60 mph. He said the car went between two fire trucks, forcing a number of firefighters to jump aside to avoid being hit.
Lafontaine said he signaled for the car to stop, but it sped up and began swerving towards him. He said he jumped out of the way and hit the ground, being missed by the car by about 10 inches.
He then got into his cruiser and went after the vehicle, catching up with it south of the incident’s location.
He said he signaled for it to stop, using his blue lights and sirens, and pulled alongside it in an effort to make it slow down. Lafontaine said the car got ahead of him again, and tried to turn down Oak Hill
Lafontaine said the airbags on the car deployed, and he and a policeman went to check on the driver, identified as Pronto. He said she made some confusing statements about "everyone being out to get her," and resisted efforts to get her out of the car.
Lafontaine said he was able to place her in handcuffs after a struggle, and she was looked over by rescue squad personnel, however she refused further medical treatment.
According to Lafontaine, Trooper Travis Hess, of the Vermont State Police, was summonsed and screened Pronto for alcohol, but the test turned up negative.
Lafontaine said it seemed as though Pronto’s mental state was abnormal, but what caused it, he does not know. She was released to the custody of her mother, who lives in Pownal, and is scheduled to appear in Bennington Superior Court Criminal Division on Aug. 6.
He said she suffered a split lip, bruising, and appeared to have injured her leg. She did not cause injury to Lafontaine or firefighters.
Back at the scene of the fire, more than a half-dozen fire departments battled the blaze for hours.
Flames spread through the entire store -- built in 1960 -- before they could be extinguished around 7 p.m., and the structure was later knocked to the ground by an excavator for safety reasons.