UPDATE: Fall River mayor’s wife hurt in Mattapoisett crash, neighbors raise concerns

Nov 1, 2021

This story has been updated to include comments from neighbors, including a witness who disputed Coogan’s version of events. 

MATTAPOISETT — Judi St. Hilaire, the wife of Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan and a former Olympic runner, was seriously injured Sunday, Oct. 31 while cycling in Mattapoisett.

The crash was reported at 11:27 a.m. on North Street at Tower Road, according to Acting Police Chief Jason King. She was transported to St. Luke’s Hospital by EMS, he said. 

St. Hilaire, 62, was doing a 60-mile ride with the Narragansett Bay Wheelmen when she was struck by a vehicle that ran a stop sign, according to material provided by Coogan’s office.

She suffered 12 broken ribs, two broken collarbones and punctured lungs, Coogan reported. 

She is being treated in the intensive care unit at St. Luke’s Hospital, where tests are being run, Coogan said. She is in stable condition, he said.

Two other cyclists were also struck, according to Coogan.

The crash is under investigation by Mattapoisett Police.

Neighbors who witnessed the crash and its aftermath disagreed with Coogan’s claim that the driver ran a stop sign. One neighbor, who did not want to be identified, said he was playing soccer with his young daughter in his front yard, feet from where the crash happened.

The driver “slowly pulled out’’ from Tower Road to cross North Street and proceed to Park Street. He was going “really slow and careful,’’ he said, while the cyclists were traveling “really, really fast’’ on North Street, he said. There is no stop sign on Tower Road.

As the driver proceeded across North Street to Park Street, several of the cyclists collided with his vehicle, the neighbor said. St. Hilaire ran into cyclists in front of her and was thrown from her bicycle, the neighbor said.

Two other cyclists struck the truck but were not injured, the neighbor said. 

The neighbor “hopped off the stone wall’’ that surrounds his property to offer assistance, he said.

The driver stopped and got onto his stomach to comfort St. Hilaire, the neighbor said. “He told her he was so sorry and he kissed her hand,’’ he said. “He was such a sweet man. He was clearly shook up. He was beside himself.’’

The neighbor’s wife, a medical professional, also tried to comfort St. Hilaire, who was clearly in pain, he said. His wife urged her to remain still, he said, and to focus on her breathing, assuring her that help was on its way.

“I feel awful for her,’’ he said of St. Hilaire.

Another neighbor, Mark Keighley, said the crash was a “terrible accident’’ and “so unfortunate.’

He did not see the crash but rushed out of his house when he heard the commotion.

From what he heard from witnesses at the scene, the driver “thought he had time’’ to cross. 

He sent his good wishes to St. Hilaire. “I hope for the best,’’ he said.

As a cyclist himself, Keighley noted that cycling on main thoroughfares can be dangerous. “I ride off road because of the traffic,’’ he said.

The intersection has been the site of incidents in the past, the neighbor said. Although he said this wasn’t the case with Sunday’s accident, “people drive way too fast,’’ he said. “I can’t tell you how many times this stone wall [around his property] has been hit.’’

He said he would “love to see a four-way stop’’ at the intersection.

Coogan said the accident won’t hold St. Hilaire back for long.

“She will have a long journey to recovery, but we have no doubt that she will be back on the road before long,’’ Coogan said in a statement.

Coogan ran a successful race for reelection Tuesday, Nov. 2. He defeated City Council President Cliff Ponte in every precinct.

“Judi is sorry she’s going to miss these last few days of the campaign, but that’s the least of our concerns,’’ he said in a statement prior to the election. “She still loves to bike and will be back to riding after plenty of recovery and rehab. Say a prayer for her if you can.’’

At his wife’s insistence, Coogan said, he continued his campaign “in between visits to the hospital. However, she will continue to be my top priority.’’

He thanked the public for the “hundreds of comments and messages showing support for Judi and I after her accident. While I can’t take the time to reply to each and every one, know that we have seen all your kind words. It is humbling to see the outpouring of support for Judi.’’

He said the accident served as “an important reminder of what matters most. I also hope that this incident is a reminder to all drivers to stay focused and drive with caution.”

St. Hilaire is a former middle and long-distance runner. She won a silver medal at the 1985 World 15km Road Race Championship and finished eighth in the 10,000 meters final at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

She won the 1980 U.S. 10,000m title and the 1983 U.S. 5000m title.