Pell Bridge crash victims remembered, investigation continuing
The following story ran in the Wednesday edition of the Newport Daily News and is reprinted with their permission.
Kenneth Prior had problems, but never let them get in the way of living his life to the fullest. That’s how those who knew the Jamestown man remembered him this week.
Prior, 65, who had developmental disabilities, stocked shelves at the Naval Station Newport commissary for more than 30 years and rarely, if ever, missed a day of work. The Jamestown resident died early Saturday after a two-car, head-on collision on the Pell Bridge.
His friend and co-worker, Kathleen Meunier, 48, of Warwick was driving him home Friday night and died at the scene. She was a peer support tech for the Veterans Regional Medical Center, a volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the mother of a 7-year-old daughter.
Meunier was driving her 2004 Chevrolet Malibu in the bridge’s westbound, right travel lane – toward Jamestown – when it was hit by a 2011 Honda Accord that had been eastbound – traveling toward Newport – about 10:45 p.m. Twin brothers Chris and James MacKenzie, 16, of Middletown were riding in the car, returning home from a football game at Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick, where they are seniors.
State Police said their Honda veered across the centerline, crossed the westbound high-speed lane and crashed into Meunier’s car. Both boys were seriously injured and are at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence. They were reported in critical condition during the weekend, but the hospital has been unable to provide any updates since.
As their family and friends pray for the MacKenzie twins, other families and friends mourn the deaths of Prior and Meunier and remember them with fondness. Among them is Jack Maher, who retired in 2010 after 33 years with the James L. Maher Center, where Prior was a longtime client.
“Kenny loved his job. He was very meticulous,” Maher said Tuesday. “The fact that he came there for 30 years every day shows how conscientious he was. He didn’t miss a day.”
Prior didn’t drive, but was familiar to Jamestown residents who would see him in St. Mark Church or walking down Narragansett Avenue to Jamestown Hardware. Owner Scott Sherman often chatted with Prior about his latest project.
“He did a lot of tinkering, woodworking. He did a lot of things with crafts,” Sherman said. “He would come in here and ask questions, and we’d try to help him out with whatever he was doing. He was quite a guy, very focused on whatever he was doing at the time.”
The Rev. William O’Neill, pastor of St. Mark Church, also has fond memories of Prior.
“Kenny was very active here,” he said. “He was very handy with woodwork. He had a little craft shop in his garage and he used to make signs, little wheelbarrows and shamrocks with people’s names in them, and sell them at our annual Christmas and summer festivals.”
Prior took the bus to and from work most days, but Meunier often gave him a ride home after their Friday night shift. Richard Meunier described his wife as a gentle woman who, in addition to raising their daughter, Honor, worked at the base and volunteered for several organizations.
“She was a beautiful person, always happy-go-lucky,” he said.
A Connecticut native, Kathleen Meunier was a graduate of Killingly High School and the University of Rhode Island. She also was accepted into the master’s program for social work at Rhode Island College. She served in the Connecticut Army National Guard until a service-connected disability.
Meunier will be buried, with full military honors, in the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Exeter following a Mass of Christian burial at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Warwick Friday.
Prior lived with his mother, Marjorie I. Prior, and leaves a brother and a sister and several nieces and nephews. After a Mass of Christian burial in St. Mark Church on Thursday morning, he will be buried in the church cemetery.
“Kenny enjoyed a good and fruitful life,” Maher said. “He was very productive and a good citizen. In the end, I think he lived the life he wanted to live.”
State Police Capt. Darren H. Delaney said this morning that investigators are working to determine whether speed, vehicle malfunction or driver distraction – such as cell phone use or texting – caused the MacKenzies’ car to veer across the bridge and crash into Meunier’s car.
“We have preliminarily ruled out drugs or alcohol as factors,” Delaney said.
State Police detectives interviewed a number of Hendricken students, teachers and parents who spoke with the twins at the football game Friday night, Delaney said. State Police have been unable to speak with either of the MacKenzie twins because of their injuries, he said.
The State Police Accident Reconstruction Team, which was on the bridge for about three hours after the fatal crash, will return Sunday about 6 a.m. to continue its investigation, using an electronic computerized mapping system to determine the speed of the vehicles and other factors, Delaney said.
Team members already have examined the black box on Meunier’s car. The box, which provides rate of speed and other information, showed the Malibu was not traveling at excessive speed at the time of impact, he said.
Investigators also have the black box from the Honda and are waiting for computer software from the manufacturer to analyze it, Delaney said.
“We have an eyewitness account (that was traveling behind the car) and there was no indication from them that speed was a factor,” he said.
Soon after the accident, friends of the MacKenzie twins set up Facebook pages to share concerns and to offer prayers and support to the MacKenzie family. There is a fundraising page to benefit the family, and another effort asking supporters to “Wear Green for the MacKenzie Boys” on Nov. 1.
City Editor M. Catherine Callahan contributed to this report.