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Driver, 83, crashes into liquor store

Woman’s car hits counter, pinning clerk against shelf

A car was left halfway through a storefront after a crash in Natick, injuring a clerk inside. A car was left halfway through a storefront after a crash in Natick, injuring a clerk inside. (Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)
By Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / July 4, 2009

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NATICK - Lately, Debra Blenkhorn hadn’t felt comfortable working behind the cash register at Fannon’s Liquor Store.

The 51-year-old clerk had been reading news stories about car accidents involving elderly drivers. The location of her register, in front of the glass facade of the building on North Main Street, a busy thoroughfare, didn’t make her feel any better.

“One of these days, someone is going to come through this liquor store,’’ she recently told co-workers.

Yesterday morning, that is exactly what happened when an 83-year-old woman plowed through the doors of the building and into the counter, pinning 51-year-old Blenkhorn between the register and a shelf full of liquor bottles.

It was the latest accident involving elderly drivers in the past month, an alarming trend that has compelled state legislators to promise fast-track legislation that would tighten restrictions on drivers over a certain age. Blenkhorn was taken to Metro West Medical Center with neck and arm injuries and released.

“I’m just so lucky that I’m alive,’’ Blenkhorn said yesterday evening at her Framingham home. “It wasn’t my day to go.’’

The driver, Jacqueline Sorensen, escaped largely unscathed. The state Registry of Motor Vehicles suspended Sorensen’s license indefinitely, according to a spokeswoman for the agency.

She will be issued a summons out of Natick District Court for driving negligently so as to endanger, said Lieutenant Brian Lauzon.

“We believe . . . that her continued operation would be so seriously improper as to constitute her an immediate threat to the safety of the public,’’ Lauzon said.

The accident occurred about 10:40 a.m., according to Natick police.

Officials said Sorensen, who was driving a Mustang convertible, pulled into the store’s parking lot, but instead of stopping, she hurtled through the exit door of the building.

She had a handicapped placard in the car and was heading toward a handicap parking spot, according to police.

A neighbor, Donna Morris, said Sorensen told her she was driving slowly into the handicap spot, when she suddenly found herself inside the store. Officials said Sorensen told them she could not remember what happened.

“I didn’t feel faint. I didn’t black out,’’ Morris said her neighbor told her yesterday during a visit at the hospital.

Lauzon said police have checked the car, but have found no mechanical failures.

“We’re strictly focused on’’ the driver’s errors, he said.

When police arrived, they found that Sorensen had tried to put the car in reverse after the crash, Lauzon said.

“This was a case where the driver of the car shot from the street, pulled right in, and just misjudged where to stop,’’ he said.

The impact caused the counter to fall on Blenkhorn, pinning her legs.

Blenkhorn’s co-worker, Amy Boisvert, said she and other employees at the store tried to keep Blenkhorn calm as bottles of whiskey and vodka spilled around her.

“I’m not moving,’’ Blenkhorn told her co-workers, Boisvert recalled. Four firefighters helped free Blenkhorn, and she was placed on a stretcher.

Deputy Fire Chief Michael Slattery said it was a close call.

“If it was a busy time, this would have been a disaster,’’ he said. Slattery estimated the crash had caused $50,000 in damage.

No one answered the door of Sorensen’s home in Natick, and a message left at a phone number listed for the address was not returned. Neighbors described Sorensen as a friendly, considerate neighbor who is in good health and keeps busy helping her husband tend his garden.

The couple, who have lived on the street for 60 years, often give their neighbors vegetables they have grown, said Patrick Botacchi, who lives next door.

“They’re the nicest people in the world,’’ he said. “You talk to anybody on the street. Everybody loves them.’’

Sorensen walked away from the accident, but was taken to the hospital after she complained that her chest hurt from the impact of the crash, officials said.

“She’s fine. Not a scratch on her,’’ said Morris.

The two women had recently talked about all of the accidents involving elderly drivers, but Sorensen expressed confidence in her driving abilities.

Sorensen had not had an accident since one in 1986, which Registry of Motor Vehicles records indicate was her fault.

“She felt like she was fine,’’ Morris said. “She can parallel park, she does it all. She’s so young, young-minded. . . . It’s just a freak thing, freaky.’’

Yesterday’s crash was at least the sixth serious accident involving an elderly driver since June 2, when a 93-year-old man hit the gas pedal instead of the brake and drove his car into the entrance of a Wal-Mart in Danvers, injuring six people.

Two of the accidents involved fatalities.

On June 13, an 89-year-old driver allegedly hit a 4-year-old girl in Stoughton, killing her. And Tuesday, an 83-year-old man allegedly hit another vehicle in Woburn. His wife, who was in the car with him, died the following day.

State Senator Brian A. Joyce, a Milton Democrat, has sponsored a bill that would require drivers 85 and older to pass a road and eye test every five years to have their license renewed.

He said he is hopeful the Legislature will move on it.

“The time has certainly come for common sense legislation,’’ he said yesterday. “Better late than never.’’

Globe correspondent Nandini Jayakrishna contributed to this report. Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com.

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