[Updated at 3:30 p.m. with charges.]
Employees at a Dedham Avenue office building were evacuated around 10 a.m. Thursday morning, Oct. 4 after an elderly driver crashed her car into the building’s gas meter, causing natural gas from the high-pressured line to pour out.
The driver, who was in her early 90s, was transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, and no one else was injured in the incident, according to Needham Fire Chief Paul Buckley.
The roadway outside 60 Dedham Ave., where the gas line was struck, was blocked to traffic for about an hour, and people in a block of office buildings along Great Plain Avenue, residents at nearby homes and two churches that house preschools were also evacuated as a precaution because of the gas leak, Buckley said.
“It looks like she [the elderly driver] went to pull into a parking space and probably hit the gas instead of the brake,” Buckley said. “She hit the pole that protects the gas meter, knocked that over, hit the gas meter and broke the gas meter [which was connected to a high-pressured gas line].”
The driver then apparently put the car in reverse, backed up and hit another vehicle—forcing the second vehicle into a fence on the edge of the parking lot—more than 30 feet away—nearly hitting a telephone pole on the other side, Buckley said.
Another vehicle, which had been parked near the building, was also struck and had scratches on the rear fender.
Buckley said he wasn’t sure what had caused the woman to crash but said police would be talking with her and her family, particularly to rule out a medical emergency.
The driver will be cited for traffic offenses, Needham Police Lt. Chris Baker said in a press release issued Thursday afternoon. Police also filed an "immediate threat" report with the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles.
“I haven’t talked to her,” Buckley said. “I’m willing to assume she doesn’t really know what happened. Often times that’s the case.”
Dorothy Mitchell, who works at Laser Skin Care Solutions on the first floor of 60 Dedham Ave., said she and others heard the gas release—what she described as a “whooshing” sound.
“We heard the gas, and then they called 9-1-1,” Mitchell said. “Everybody came, and they were able to shut it down.”
The building also houses Cox and Cox Law Offices and other businesses.
Buckley said people in the building could feel the vibrations from gas coming out of the high-pressured line.
“You could smell it a block away,” he said.
Needham Police and Fire officials were able to respond quickly, as several units were participating in a training class nearby, Buckley said.
“We were fortunate,” he said.
The gas to the building has been shut off, and Buckley said the gas company had been notified. Employees at 60 Dedham Ave. were allowed to return to the building by around 11 a.m.
Buckley expected the gas meter to be repaired within the next day or so and said no other damage appeared to have been done to the building.
However, the woman’s vehicle had to be towed, as did the vehicle she pushed into the fence, and the wooden fence had a huge, car-sized gap in it after the crash.
“It’s really fortunate nobody was just walking across the parking lot at that time,” Buckley said.