‘I thought the gas tanks had exploded’
PHOTO COURTESY OF PAM BARNEY
Members of Mattituck Fire Department shore up the upper section of the
house after a speeding car took out the entire corner. The damage was
such that the town condemned the structure.
Last Saturday, 94-year-old Judith Utter had two unexpected visitors — a guardian angel and a Lexus ES250.
At about 9:45 Saturday morning, just a week before Ms. Utter’s 95th birthday, a 2007 Lexus driven by Noreen Warren of Mattituck went through a corner of Ms. Utter’s house on Grand Avenue, destroying the bedroom the elderly woman had left only moments before the crash.
“I guess I’m still in shock,” Ms. Utter said Monday. “But everybody says my guardian angel must have been here — for me and for Ms. Warren. I don’t know how she survived, looking at the route she took.”
Ms. Warren, 63, was driving south on Grand Avenue at about 9:45 a.m., when the Lexus unexpectedly accelerated on its own, causing her to lose control of the car, sideswipe a tree before going through Ms. Utter’s house and hit another tree on the other side, Southold Town Police reported. Members of the Mattituck Fire Department freed Ms. Warren from the Lexus, and she was airlifted to Stony Brook University Medical Center for treatment to injuries, police said.
Though Ms. Utter escaped physical injury, the woman known for years as “the ticket lady” at North Fork Community Theatre still has to deal with the trauma of losing her home of 40 years, which the Southold Town building department condemned the day of the crash. Ms. Utter is currently living down the street with her good friend Janice Olsen, a legal assistant to State Senator Ken LaValle and Riverhead attorney Tom Twomey.
“It’s traumatic, you know? She 94,” said Ms. Olsen, 55. “She’s tired. She’s talked to a lot of people, had to go back to the house, see the insurance adjustor… It’s a grind.”
The morning of the accident, Ms. Utter said she had just finished getting dressed and making her bed when she went into the bathroom to hang up some clothes.
“I was standing in the bathroom when the car hit,” she said. “It was an explosion. I thought the gas tanks had exploded. When I turned around, I saw that the windows were blown out and everything had fallen off the walls. The bed I had just finished making was demolished.”
Ms. Utter said that all she could do was scream before she ran to the telephone and dialed 911.
“I told them that my house exploded and I needed help,” she said. “Then I called my friend Janice, who I’m living with now. All I could say was, ‘My house, my house.'”
After her call to Ms. Olsen, Ms. Utter said she went outside to assess the damage to the house. She couldn’t believe her eyes.
“I tried to realize what happened,” she said. “And as I was standing there, shaking, a wonderful lady who was driving by backed up, got out of her car and stood there with me and held me very closely until Janice arrived. I only got her first name — Sally.”
Ms. Utter owned her own business in Rockville Centre before moving to Mattituck after her husband died four decades ago.
“But my family and I began summering out here almost 100 years ago,” she said.
Her only son, 69-year-old Davey, is retired and living in Los Angles. Ms. Utter said she isn’t sure when he can make it out to see her. Ms. Olsen, who has known Ms. Utter for 35 years, said she’s “doing well” considering the hardships, and that she will help her friend until she finds another place to live.
But that place, Ms. Utter said, probably won’t be her boarded-up home on Grand Avenue.
“The whole frame is off the foundation, the chimney is out of whack,” she said. “I’m sure it will have to come down.”