A 93-year-old Natick woman crashed her car into an office building at 60 Dedham Ave. in Needham on Thursday morning, causing a major gas leak that required the evacuation of nearby businesses and daycares, according to Needham Police and Fire Departments.
“If you saw the scene, you’d say, ‘Wow, this person should probably have been hurt a lot worse than she was,’” said Needham Fire Chief Paul Buckley.
At around 10 a.m., the woman was apparently pulling into a parking spot, he said, when she shot forward into another car, and hit a concrete barrier protecting the gas meter on the building, said Buckley. She tipped the barrier over, which Buckley said is tough to do, and hit the gas meter, which broke from the gas line and released high-pressure gas into the air.
She then put the car in reverse and backed up, hitting two more parked cars and sending one of them crashing through a fence and into a telephone pole, said Buckley.
“I can’t speak to what happened to her,” said Buckley of how the accident occurred. “We may never know.”
The woman was taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Needham with minor injuries, according to a Needham Police Department press release.
People inside the building, which houses several businesses, said they could smell the gas as it poured out, and workers began running office to office telling people to evacuate.
“We heard the gas leak hiss, that’s all we heard,” said Shuaib Raza, owner of A Dent Restoration, Inc., which is in the basement of 60 Dedham Ave. “People started screaming, ‘Get out, get out.’”
The entire office building plus about eight other nearby businesses were evacuated, said Buckley.
There are two churches, First Baptist Church and First Church of Christ Scientist, right down the street, said Buckley, and both run daycare centers. Those churches were evacuated and the children taken to the nearby YMCA, he said.
“If it had been 8:30 in the morning [when the accident happened] with a lot of kids getting dropped off to daycare, we could have had a true tragedy on our hands,” said Buckley.
Steve Buttrick, owner of CertaPro Painters, a business in the basement of 60 Dedham Ave., was feeling lucky on Thursday afternoon, even though his PT Cruiser was the first car to be hit.
“I decided at the last minute to park in that spot rather than one closer to the building,” he said. “Ten minutes later, she hit it. If she had not hit my car, she probably would have hit the meter full-force, and potentially caused an explosion, which would have taken out the building.”
His car is not badly damaged, he said, though it was spun 90 degrees and wound up about 30 feet from where he parked.
“I’m glad I was parked where I was,” he said. “It may have saved her life, and certainly the lives of the people that were in that corner of the building.“
Buckley said it was entirely possible that if the woman hadn’t been slowed by Buttrick’s car, the accident could have been much worse.
“If she had hit it harder, she could have ended up with her car on top of the broken gas pipe, which would have ignited,” he said.
NStar shut off the gas main, according to a spokesman for the company. By about 11 a.m., people were allowed to return to their homes and businesses, and the road was reopened, according to police.
The driver will be cited for traffic offenses and an Immediate Threat report will be filed with the state Registry of Motor Vehicles, according to police.
“It was pretty scary,” said Raza. “I have my business here, I have my very expensive equipment. God forbid it catches fire, I’ll lose everything… One minute you’re fine, and the next minute, it’s gone.”
Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org