BOSTON – A dislodged manhole cover weighing more than 200 pounds went airborne and crashed through an SUV’s windshield on a major highway, killing an art teacher as she drove to work during the Friday morning commute, authorities said.
Police didn’t confirm the victim’s name Friday, but Milton Public School district identified her as Caitlin Clavette, an art teacher at Glover Elementary School in the Boston suburb.
“Ms. Clavette was a talented and special educator who has touched the lives of many students and families over the past four years in the Milton Public Schools,” the district said in a statement. “The entire Milton community extends its thoughts and prayers to Caitlin’s family and friends.”
Clavette had taught in all four of the district’s elementary schools, the district said. She was a graduate of Winchester High School, earned her bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary in Virginia and her masters from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
The district said Glover Elementary will be open Saturday from 11 a.m. to noon for parents who need guidance on how to talk to their children about the accident.
Gov. Charlie Baker called the incident “bizarre” and said highway crews were checking other manhole covers in the travel lanes of Boston-area highways to determine if any others were loose.
“My initial reaction is what an incredible tragedy for that woman and her family and what an incredibly random tragedy,” Baker said.
The manhole cover was in the left lane of Interstate 93 south near the exit of the Thomas P. O’Neill Tunnel.
After the manhole cover struck the driver side windshield, the Honda SUV continued forward on Interstate 93 south before striking a wall on the left shoulder of coming to a stop.
It’s unclear what caused the manhole cover to become dislodged. State police said they were examining the manhole cover to determine if it had “excessive wear, deformation, or any other characteristics” that could have contributed to it going airborne.
State transportation workers were also sent out to check about 500 manhole covers, grates and utility panels in the travel lanes of highways around the Boston area “out of an abundance of caution,” Highway Administrator Thomas Tinlin said. He warned drivers to be prepared for lane closures during the inspections. He said any unsecured hardware discovered would be welded into place.
Depending on what is found, the inspections could be expanded to outside the Boston area.
The manhole cover that killed the woman covers a storm drainage system and was last inspected in June 2014, Tinlin said. There was no indication the cover had been removed recently, he said.
State police said they would not release any surveillance camera footage from the area of the accident nor multiple 911 calls that were made because they are part of the ongoing investigation.
Baker, a Republican, said he would wait for the investigation to be completed and would not speculate on how the incident may have occurred. He said highway officials could not recall a similar incident in recent memory.
In 2007, a man was seriously injured when a storm drain grate flew off the roadway and struck his vehicle on Route 128 in Westwood.
The O’Neill tunnel, named for the late former U.S. House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, was part of the Boston highway project known as the Big Dig and opened in 2003.