Originally published on April 13, 2015; revised on April 24, 2015.
As buses lined up after school on March 25, a Kia Sorento driven by Chelsea Newton ’14 exited the staff parking lot next to the cafeteria and collided with a Lexus E53 driving down Houghton Road. The collision occurred at 2:48 p.m. with three buses parked on Houghton right next to the lot’s exit.
There were two occupants in the Sorento—the former student and a current student, a minor, in the passenger seat. The Lexus belonged to a Domino’s employee, Evan Stockwell of Hillsborough, who was using his own car to deliver pizza to PHS. Stockwell was unavailable for comment.
“I came [outside] at 3:00 … [An] ambulance and the police were already here,” said Grace Seward ’17. “There were two cars [in the street]. [It looked like] the collision was not a head-on collision, but the hoods were pretty far dented in.”
Newton was attempting to make a right turn out of the parking lot when the cars collided. Stockwell told Patrol Officer Judd Petrone that he was traveling approximately 20 miles per hour, under the speed limit of 25 miles per hour, when the crash occurred. “[He] reported that he tried to get to the right but parked cars would not allow him to move any further,” Petrone wrote in a police report filed by the Princeton Police Department. According to a manager at Princeton’s Domino’s, Stockwell is still employed there.
One of the occupants of the Sorento was given medical attention at the accident scene, according to witnesses. “There was a girl lying on a stretcher,” Seward said. “She had her head in a brace.”
“Both passengers in [the Sorento] were transported to [the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro] where they were treated and released,” Petrone wrote in the police report.
According to Assistant Principal Jessica Baxter, however, only Newton was transported to the hospital. “There was a student involved in the accident who, for whatever reason, was not taken away by the ambulance,” she said. “I brought her inside into the English office [and] we brought the nurse over.”
The report states that one of the factors that may have led to the accident was that buses blocked the view of the former student as she pulled onto Houghton Road. “There were three large school buses parked on the west side of Houghton Road. The last bus in line was parked right up to the exit of the PHS parking lot … [The former student] stated that the buses to her right obstructed her view and she could not get a good look at traffic coming north on Houghton,” Petrone wrote.
Carolina Soto ’17 said that the buses are definitely a problem to all drivers attempting to leave the lot through that exit. “You can’t see anything when there are five buses blocking your view and you want to make a turn,” she said.
Not many students or teachers were outside at the time of the accident. “It was a rainy day—it was misting, so I don’t think too many kids were outside,” Baxter said. “Our staff members were in [a] meeting—I don’t think there were that many people who saw it.”
Baxter arrived at the scene before PHS was notified by police, in contrast to normal circumstances. “When there is an accident [involving students], the police will call us,” Baxter said. “But for this one, I just happened upon the accident.”
Several years ago, representatives from the PREA recommended changes regarding the existing traffic flow and parking-lot policies during school hours to the Princeton Police Department. These requests included the suggestion to make the exit to the lot at Houghton Road for entrance only and the one at Walnut Street for exit only. The police did institute directional arrows for drivers in the lot, but both remain for both exiting and entering.
Another issue brought up by the PREA at this point was the crowding and disorganization during morning drop-off in the front circle which has since been alleviated by the placement of cones and painting of multiple lanes in the circle.
The prospect of an accident on school property during school hours caused some students to realize the importance of driving with caution and the real-life dangers driving provides. “[An accident like this] makes students more aware … about the real safety hazards of driving, and really puts things into perspective for them,” said Gabrielle Fay ’17.
While no accidents have occurred in this exact location, in the past three years there have been three other accidents within a block of the school involving students for which accident reports were filed with the police department. One collision happened outside of Westminster Choir College’s parking lot entrance, while another happened on Walnut Street next to Hamilton Avenue. The third took place on Walnut north of Guyot Avenue.
Additional reporting: Winona Guo