About six months after returning home from a nine-month tour of Afghanistan, Specialist Joel Constantineau of the Army National Guard was struck and killed by a motorist on Main Avenue while riding his motorcycle to school the morning of May 21. He was 27 years old.
“He was just full of life,” said his mother, Maryanne Constantineau. “He loved his family and friends so much and made everyone that he loved feel that. He was generous, happy [and] a well-loved guy.”
According to a report filed by the Warwick Police Department, Constantineau was traveling west on Main Avenue while a truck exiting Shell gas station at 708 Greenwich Avenue going northbound attempted to cross four lanes of traffic to Covington Drive when the crash occurred. The driver was not injured. Speeding and alcohol were not factors, but the WPD cited the driver for entering from a private driveway, plus eluding a traffic signal.
While Maryanne said she and her husband, Bill, are not angry at the driver, they would like to see traffic improvements made to the area. Their oldest son was also in an accident at the same intersection 10 years ago.
“He was in a vehicle and traveling down Main Avenue the same way Joel was when a car cut through the Shell parking lot and rammed into the side of his car,” said Maryanne. “He was OK, but I’ve spoken to so many people who either have been involved in an accident there or know someone who has been involved.”
Renee Frechette, Constantineau’s girlfriend of nearly four years, said an accident took place in the exact spot five hours after the tragic collision.
Soon after his death, Constantineau’s loved ones contacted staff members at Governor Lincoln Chafee’s office in hopes of having the site changed to prevent further accidents. Chafee’s staff advised them to write to the governor. In addition to a letter to the governor, they promptly launched an e-mail campaign, encouraging others via Facebook to compose letters. Chafee’s office connected with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) to evaluate the location.
In an e-mail to a Warwick Beacon reporter, RIDOT spokesperson Rose Amoros said RIDOT initiated a road safety audit of the area based on the concerns. Safety enhancements are being explored, and any proposed modifications would first be discussed with the community and surrounding businesses before being implemented.
She said RIDOT, along with the WPD, the local Department of Public Works and RIDOT’s engineering consultant, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc., conducted a road safety assessment at the intersection in late June.
Chafee’s staff member, Ryan Crowley, recently sent a letter to the Constantineaus stating that possible improvements include “extending the existing raised median beyond Covington Drive, restricting the through crossing movement. This [concrete] median will have a break to allow left turns into Shell’s western driveway. This will aid in eliminating cross movement of vehicles at Covington.”
Crowley wrote that RIDOT would contact Shell to determine the feasibility of striping a no parking zone on their property in front of Main Avenue to improve sight distance at the driveway.
“RIDOT has not yet presented a timeframe for this project but will keep the Governor’s Office informed of any time estimate that may develop,” wrote Crowley.
Additionally, Amoros noted that Main Avenue, a state road also known as Route 113, has an average daily traffic volume of 21,200 vehicles. The intersecting road, Greenwich Avenue, or Route 5, has an average daily traffic volume of 9,200 vehicles.
From 2007 to 2013, there were 29 crashes at the intersection of Main Avenue and Covington Drive. One involved a fatality.
Amoros said that the frequency of crashes at Main Avenue and Covington Drive is not unusual for an intersection of this size and traffic volume.
“Per federal regulations, we compile an annual list of high-risk intersections that are ranked based on the number and severity of the crashes,” she said. “This intersection is not identified on the list.”
Constantineau’s family and friends want the traffic median extended, making the exit from the gas station a right-turn only.
“It’s such an easy fix to me,” Maryanne said. “We just want to do the right thing.”
Bill added, “If extending that island could save one person’s life, it’s all worth it.”
Frechette feels the same, as does Constantineau’s friend Lauren DelSesto. She and Constantineau had been close since meeting at Gorton Junior High.
“This is someone who served his country,” DelSesto said. “They should at least pay some respect and prevent more accidents from happening. It’s something that’s so simple.”
While Lt. Michael Gilbert of the WPD’s Traffic Division and Community Services Platform agrees it’s a dangerous intersection, he said it’s not that easy. He’s been present during RIDOT evaluations.
“I’m very sensitive to the fact that the family wants to make it safer,” Gilbert said. “But if the median is extended, as a result I guarantee there would be additional accidents at the other intersections. It’s like plugging a hole in a dam – you put your finger in one hole and then three others pop up. There’s not one simple silver bullet to solve this problem.”
Gilbert also pointed out that improved signage to prevent left turns out of the gas station wouldn’t have made a difference in this situation, as the motorist wasn’t attempting to make a left turn. Rather, the vehicle was crossing Main Avenue onto Covington Drive.
“That would make it a little bit safer, but it wouldn’t fix the underlying cause for this accident,” he said.
Aside from Constantineau’s family, as well as Frechette and DelSesto, some of his friends, including Evan Eidam, Aubrie Blanchette and Bryan Buckley, also hope to see changes made to the traffic law. They said Constantineau, a graduate of Veterans Memorial High who was pursuing a degree in nutrition at the Community College of Rhode Island, was working on becoming a certified personal trainer and about to be sworn in as an Elk by the Elks Lodge on West Shore Road.
“With him, there was no clique,” Eidam said. “He got along with everyone.”
Blanchette added, “People just gravitated towards him.”
He was also the life of every party, DelSesto said, further noting that he often interjected if someone was being bullied or treated unfairly.
Buckley recalled Constantineau’s “lust for life” and his ability to make people smile. His laugh was also special.
“His laugh could fill the void on your saddest day and bring you back to reality with a single quip,” said Buckley, who befriended Constantineau during their days at Oakland Beach Elementary School. “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him and have a good laugh thinking about our friendship.”
To honor their loyal, helpful and outspoken friend, who was enthusiastic about serving the country, as he reenlisted for another seven years and was Airborne qualified, they are thinking about planning a fundraiser to create an “Adopt-A-Spot memorial in the area.
“But it’s not the first thing we think of when we decided we wanted to fight to get the median extended,” Maryanne said. “Our whole goal is to prevent someone else from having to go through this. We want to stop accidents from happening. That’s our crusade.”