BARRE TOWN — Shock waves rippled through the community this weekend following the tragic death of local businessman Michael Stone in an accident Friday.
Police responded at 5:12 p.m. to a two-vehicle accident near the Dollar General. They said Jonathan Townsend, 43, of Worcester, was traveling west on Route 302 in a Ford F-350 hauling a farm tractor on a trailer. As he passed the Dollar General, the trailer detached and struck a Chevrolet Suburban traveling east head-on.
Police said Stone, 61, of Orange, was pronounced dead at the scene. Townsend was not injured.
Route 302 between the traffic circle in East Barre and Hill Street in Barre was closed to traffic for five hours while police investigated the accident and the wreckage was removed.
Barre Town Fire Chief Chris Violette said police are continuing to investigate the incident.
“The state police accident reconstruction was there for a few hours, doing their work in conjunction with the Barre Town Police,” Violette said, adding that some of the emergency services personnel who knew Stone were shocked to discover he was killed. “It hits pretty close to home.”
Stone was the owner of Stone’s Service Station on Washington Street in Barre, a business he bought in October 1985. Stone was known throughout the community for being a strong family man and deeply devoted to his customers, neighbors and friends over many years. Accounts of the accident painted a harrowing story of desperate efforts to save his life.
Julie Salter and her husband, Robert, live a short distance from where the accident happened.
“The traffic started backing up,” she said. “My husband went out and saw the vehicle, and he came back and said, ‘I think somebody was killed.’
“He recognized the vehicle and said he thought he knew who was in it but wasn’t sure. Then I looked out the window again and saw a woman running up the road and drop to her knees,” she added.
Salter said she knows Stone’s fiancée, Terri Crawford, from Barre Town Elementary and Middle School, where children from both families attended. Salter said Crawford’s brother, Tom Crawford, lives next door. Stone and Terri Crawford met about 14 years ago and were engaged after Stone’s first wife, Mary, died in 2002.
The accident happened outside 744 East Barre Road, a property owned by Mike Bilodeau. A simple wooden cross bearing Stone’s name and a photo was erected across the street.
Bilodeau said he was not on-site at the time of the accident, but said a tenant living on the property said he heard the crash and ran out to try and help extricate Stone from his vehicle. Bilodeau said an employee at the adjacent Dollar General, who is a part-time EMT, also ran out to the accident to see if she could help.
Rob Coache, the store manager at Dollar General, confirmed that the employee had gone out to the accident.
“She’s not talked about it other than to say she didn’t sleep last night,” Coache said.
Bilodeau added that he knew Stone well and had done business with him in the past.
“They say, ‘The good die young,’ and he was a good guy, he would do anything for anybody,” Bilodeau said. “I went to school with Mike and knew the family well.
“A lot of people would go to him to fix something, and if they couldn’t pay, he wouldn’t charge them. That’s the kind of guy he was,” Bilodeau added.
It was a sentiment that others echoed. At the Quality Mart, just up the street from Stone’s garage, store owner Pam Trag said Stone’s brother, Tim, would snowplow the parking lot, and Stone was well known locally.
“He always had a smile on his face, was just such a wonderful person and so pleasant to deal with. He would go out of his way to help anybody,” Trag said. “We’ve done business with the family at the garage for years and years, and this is just so unexpected and such a terrible tragedy for the whole family.”
Tim Stone said he was always close to his brother and his unexpected death was a terrible loss.
“He was an outstanding citizen, and he loved America,” Tim Stone said. “He was a great family man, a great businessman. He always went out of his way for anyone.
“He was probably the best mechanic in this area. He never gave up on a vehicle. If he couldn’t fix it, even if he worked on it for a month, a week, he wouldn’t charge you,” he added.
Tim Stone said his brother also loved the outdoors. He said he loved to spend time in the woods and was an avid supporter of all-terrain vehicle (ATV) recreation. Together with his fiancée, Michael Stone spent the past decade working with the Central Vermont ATV Club. Crawford served as treasurer and Stone was trail master, overseeing 17 miles of the Vermont ATV Sportsman’s Association trails running through West Topsham, Washington and Orange, and recently opened a new trail to Washington Village Store.
Roland Bedard, CVATVC president, said it was a tribute to Stone’s friendly personality that negotiations with landowners to travel across their land went smoothly.
“Everything that Mike did was so community-minded,” Bedard said. “Every time we tried to open up a route for ATV, he was the one who wanted to talk to the landowners about it. He would say he would want to hear their concerns, try to address them and keep everyone happy. Because of that, we had very few problems. He was just a great guy.”
An expansive profile of Stone by Will Linder was published in the Times Argus in 2014. In it, Linder described how the Barre native graduated from Spaulding High School in 1976 and always had a yearning to be a mechanic, even as a child.
Linder wrote: “Most children play with their toys. Says Stone, ‘I used to take my toys apart.’”
After school, Stone worked construction, running an overhead crane, and as a lathe operator in the granite industry. But he gravitated back to one early job as a mechanic at the former Winn’s Gulf Station on Washington Street, and before long, he was running it.
His dream of owning his own garage came true when the owners of the former MacDonald’s Service Station, on the corner of Washington and Hill streets, decided to sell the business in 1985 and Stone was lucky enough to beat other interested parties to buy it. He would go on to operate the garage for 33 years with the help of his brother, who then founded Tim Stone Trucking Co.
Other family members helped with administrative tasks, including Stone’s sister Cindy and his former wife, Mary, who both died young unexpectedly, in 2000 and 2002, respectively. Stone’s son, Nick, 29, has worked for the garage for a decade, while mechanic Michael Moulton has worked for Stone since 1989.
“Michael not only had a willing, gracious, giving heart, he had an enormous talent with anything mechanical. He loved solving people’s problems and he would stay with a person having a problem. He was very successful and he showed that talent as a boy,” said Stone’s stepmother, Sue Stone.
BARRE — Maybe next year?
When it comes to an expensive storm sewer upgrade planned for a flood-prone section of North Main Street, that’s the best estimate City Manager Steve Mackenzie can provide and it is one that comes with a much heavier emphasis on the word “maybe” than he would prefer.
Mackenzie had been holding out hope that his request for supplemental federal funding would be approved in time to finish the second of two voter-approved storm sewer projects this year. However, that didn’t happen and at this point even if he was in a position to green light construction of the North Main Street project there isn’t time to complete it.
“We’ve missed the season this year,” he said Monday.
That raises questions Mackenzie isn’t in a position to answer.
For starters, Mackenzie said, it is unclear whether federal funding for work that was supposed to be completed more than a year ago will still be available for use by the city next summer. Even if it is, he said, he still hasn’t heard whether the hazard mitigation grant the city was awarded could be increased to reflect higher than expected construction costs that derailed both projects last year.
One of those projects targeted a flood-prone section of Granite Street, while the other contemplated a storm sewer up grade near the People’s Health and Wellness Clinic on North Main Street.
The Granite Street work was recently completed by R.J. Piche Excavating Co. after the Essex contractor held its $350,000 bid for both projects for more than a year.
Mackenzie said the North Main Street work will remain in limbo until he determines whether the grant the city received for work that was supposed to be finished in 2017 can be completed in 2019 and whether there is any chance that it can be increased.
Both are important questions.
Mackenzie said if the grant can’t be extended it would likely be lethal to one of the two storm sewer projects that were proposed in the wake of flooding that occurred in 2011. Even if an extension is approved, he said, the absence of supplemental funding would be a huge hurdle.
“If we don’t get the money than we’re going to be short and I’m not sure how we make up the difference,” he said.
Mackenzie was able to take the actual construction bids into account when incorporating the city’s 25 percent share of the work into the $1.15 million bond issue voters approved for those and an assortment of other projects in March. However, the bidding process hadn’t started when he applied for hazard mitigation grants that were initially denied, resubmitted and eventually approved last year.
Those grants were intended to cover 75 percent of the total project costs, but when the bids were actually in hand it was clear the approved funding was insufficient.
After more than a year’s delay, Mackenzie authorized R.J. Piche to replace the functionally deficient storm sewer system on Granite Street from Gable Place to the Stevens Branch of the Winooski River. Original estimates indicated that work, which was recently completed, would cost $115,000. The bid was just over $152,000.
The most significant variance between construction estimate and bid price involved the work that remains.
Estimates indicated the storm sewer upgrade contemplated in the vicinity of the People’s Health and Wellness Clinic would cost roughly $104,000. The bid the city received was nearly $197,500.
Barring new information, Mackenzie said the North Main Street project could be deferred for some time.
“At least Granite Street is done,” he said. “We’re halfway there and halfway is better than no way.”
“Voters give Democrats higher marks on looking out for the interests of women and the middle class, handling health care, and immigration. They rate Republicans higher on handling the economy, trade and the Supreme Court justice nomination process.”
In the news
Vermonters honor the anniversary of the end of World War I at a ceremony in Northfield this weekend. A2
Barre City councilors receive memo ahead of Tuesday’s council meeting on a proposal to create a regional emergency communications center serving central Vermont. A3
State’s Attorney Rory Thibault outlines his agenda for his next term. A3
Viva La Marimba
Soloist Jane Boxall and Montpelier Chamber Orchestra perform. 7 p.m. Vermont College of Fine Arts Gallery, 36 College St., Montpelier.