‘The smallest tip may break this case open’: DA’s office pleas for help as tips dwindle in hit-run of Hadley boy

  • First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne speaks at a press conference about the images and information authorities have gathered on the Oct. 11, 2022 hit-and-run case in Hadley. “The smallest tip may break this case open,” he said. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne speaks at a press conference last Friday about the information authorities have gathered on the Oct. 11 hit-and-run in Hadley that put a boy in the hospital. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Hadley Police Department Lt. Mitchell Kuc noted the van turnd onto Bay Road after hitting the boy and circled the Hampton Inn parking lot and the Pride gas station, which authorities called an evasive maneuver. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne shows an image of the van heading west on Route 9 in Hadley after the hit-and-run on Oct. 11, 2022. “The smallest tip may break this case open,” he said. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne said the van in the Oct. 11, 2022, hit-and-run case in Hadley has no writing or decals, among other details. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Suspect van in the parking lot of Hampton Inn, 24 Rusell St., after the crash. NORTHWESTERN DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE

  • The suspect van is seen heading westbound on Route 9 near a Pride gas station after the crash. Below, the van passes Exotic Auto Repair heading toward the Coolidge Bridge. NORTHWESTERN DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE PHOTOS

  • The suspect van is seen heading westbound on Route 9 approaching Cross Path Road after the crash. NORTHWESTERN DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE


  • The suspect van is seen passing Exotic Auto Repair, heading west toward the Coolidge Bridge on Route 9. At top, the van heads south on University Drive before the crash. NORTHWESTERN DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE

Staff Writer
Friday, January 27, 2023

NORTHAMPTON — At a standstill more than three months after a Hadley teen was struck and seriously injured in a Route 9 crosswalk, authorities took a rare step last Friday morning of holding a press conference in the hope that someone, somewhere will help them identify the person who drove away on that foggy fall morning.

“The smallest tip may break this case open,” First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven Gagne told reporters at the 45-minute press conference.

In an indication of the challenges the case continues to present, and the need to get more leads from the public to pursue, Gagne and members of the Hadley Police Department and the State Police detective unit attached to the district attorney’s office gave an update on the status of the investigation that so far has yielded numerous tips, but no apprehension of a suspect.

“We’re going to exhaust all investigative avenues until we reach that end, or we reach the point where we cross our fingers and hope,” Gagne said.

Much of the information unveiled Friday has already been released to the public, though Gagne did outline one previously undisclosed fact. Less than 30 minutes before the white Ford Econoline extended cargo van struck the boy, the vehicle, which has yet to be located by investigators, was parked in a shopping center lot on University Drive in Amherst, and traveled back and forth on that street.

Hadley Police Chief Michael Mason said the investigation has been extraordinarily nerve-wracking, and that every officer and dispatcher in the department has helped out in trying to learn who struck the 13-year-old Hopkins Academy student at 7 a.m. Oct. 11 in the crosswalk that runs between the Cumberland Farms gas station and Hadley Juvenile Court.

The investigation so far has focused on locating the vehicle, which has windows only on the two front doors and the two cargo doors on the back. The van also has a dent in its rear passenger side quarter panel and possibly a missing front grill. But the van has no writing, decals, roof racks or ladders.

While the model was originally identified as from 1997 to 2006, Gagne said it more likely dates from 2003 to 2006.

“What’s remarkable about this van is that it’s so nondescript,” Gagne said.

Video surveillance shows the van’s front license plate either missing or, if registered out of Massachusetts, not necessary. There is no clear view of the rear license plate due to that morning’s thick fog.

The facts of the case remain that the boy operated an electric scooter in the crosswalk at a controlled crossing signal, with the light above flashing warnings to drivers. He was struck by the right side passenger rearview mirror by the westbound van, which didn’t slow down or stop. The boy, with a head injury, the scooter and backpack were all in the road when first responders arrived, and several people had entered the road to make sure he wasn’t hit by another vehicle.

Van’s movements

The press conference revealed new details of where the van was both before and in the moments after the crash.

At 6:36 a.m. it backed in for two minutes to a parking space in the Big Y Supermarket parking lot in Amherst between the Dunkin’ Donuts and Ginger Garden restaurant, near a Bank of America ATM. But the driver apparently didn’t exit during those 120 seconds, authorities said.

Then, the vehicle drove in a loop for about 10 minutes, getting onto Route 9 before making a U-turn at the intersection of Route 9 and Campus Plaza Drive, and then heading back onto University Drive. From there, the van turned left onto Amity Street and onto Rocky Hill Road, before again making a U-turn or otherwise turning around, returning to University Drive and then to Route 9, where it remained until the crash.

It is not known if the loop the van made was for making deliveries of products or dropping off passengers. “We have no knowledge of any stops on that route,” Gagne said.

Mason said the loop remains a puzzle. “It is a bit of an odd route. It doesn’t make sense,” Mason said.

But Mason said he is confident someone knows more about why the van was in Amherst at the time.

The final part of the van’s journey before the accident was picked up by the camera onboard a PVTA bus near the Mountain Farms Mall and Home Depot plaza, and the bus and van mostly stayed together up until the time of the crash.

Investigators on Friday also revealed that the driver likely knew that a pedestrian was hit. Gagne said this is indicated in the van’s abrupt swerving to the left just before striking the boy, and then fleeing at a high rate of speed.

“Knowing you’ve just hit someone, leaving the scene seems so irrational,” Gagne said. “Maybe panic, maybe fear, maybe the person trying to cover something else up.”

Another sign of the driver’s intentions was making a left turn from Route 9 onto Bay Road, circling the Hampton Inn parking lot and then the Pride gas station, which Gagne characterized as “an evasive maneuver,” before returning to the state highway and traveling over the Coolidge Bridge, as shown on a surveillance video at Exotic Auto, at the corner of Route 9 and Cross Path Road.

The van is then believed to have gotten onto Interstate 91, as there is no evidence of the van on any surveillance cameras anywhere in Northampton.

Where it went on I-91 has not been established. License plate readers active on the highway captured license plates on similar vans, but not the one investigators are seeking. “Any potential match we got was ruled out,” Gagne said.

Photos of the license plate, even at the highest resolution, likely won’t pay off because it is “literally a blur,” Gagne said. “That avenue doesn’t seem to be carrying out,” Gagne said.

Investigators also don’t know anything about the van’s whereabouts before 6:40 a.m., though Gagne said it doesn’t appear the van drove to Amherst from Belchertown.

Gagne said he and others have met with the family and that the boy is recovering and his rehabilitation is ongoing. He asked that people keep him and his family in their thoughts and prayers, which also offers some relief to those working the case. “Even if the suspect escapes apprehension, the worst didn’t come to pass,” Gagne said.

The outcome for the case remains unknown, but Gagne said he’d like to see the driver come forward.

“It’s never too late to do the right thing,” Gagne said.

Those with information are asked to call Hadley police at 413-584-0883, send email to Hadley Police Detective Janelle Seitz at seitzj@hadleyma.gov, or contact the department through the Hadley police Facebook messenger page.