Injured trooper improves slightly
Driver, 18, faces arraignment today
By Douglas Belkin and Elizabeth Boch, Globe Staff and Globe Correspondent, 7/28/2003
he medical condition of a state trooper whose cruiser was rear-ended by an allegedly drunk teenage driver improved slightly yesterday after surgeons performed another operation, a State Police trooper said.
But the co-worker, familiar with her injuries, said the outlook is grim. ''If she does survive,'' said State Police Trooper Scott Shubert, ''it's going to be a question of what her quality of life is going to be.''
Trooper Ellen E. Engelhardt, a 22-year veteran, suffered massive head trauma at 6:10 a.m. Saturday when a 1991 Volvo driven by a recent Wayland High School graduate slammed into her cruiser at nearly 100 miles an hour in the breakdown lane of Route 25 in Wareham. Engelhardt's car was hurled nearly 200 feet. She was rushed into surgery at Boston Medical Center, where she was listed in critical condition yesterday.
''Her condition has improved somewhat, but it's still not good,'' Shubert said. ''She has a severe head injury.''
An avid runner and single mother who raised her daughter with the help of her parents while working the midnight shift, Engelhardt was described by colleagues yesterday as a role model for women on the force.
''She's just a very, very strong woman,'' said Trooper Denise Fisher, the only other woman in the South Yarmouth barracks, where 28 troopers work. ''She was well-liked by everyone.''
Meanwhile, 18-year-old William P. Senne, a former football player and student council co-president at Wayland High School, was released on bail after he was arrested on charges of operating under the influence of alcohol, speeding, operating in the breakdown lane, and operating to endanger. He is scheduled to be arraigned today in Wareham District Court.
On Saturday, he was treated for minor injuries at Tobey Hospital in Wareham and released.
Senne's sister, Holly Senne, declined to elaborate on where her brother was going or coming from at the time of the crash, but she said that she hopes Engelhardt recovers from her injuries.
''We're all just praying for that woman,'' she said.
The Senne family has a summer house on the middle of Bassetts Island, which is accessible only by boat. Yesterday, no one answered the door at their home, which is one of only five on the 60-acre island, off of Cape Cod. A neighbor said that Senne has worked there summers teaching sailing to children and had been on the island a few days ago.
''A damn good sailor,'' said Tom O'Flaherty, who lives on the island. ''Any time he goes by in his boat, he waves. He's extraordinarily friendly.''
According to State Police, Senne said he had fallen asleep at the wheel while heading to Cape Cod. Eyewitnesses said he was driving in excess of 90 miles per hour.
Yesterday at Boston Medical Center, about a dozen family members, friends, and state troopers gathered outside Engelhardt's fifth-floor room in the intensive care unit, Massachusetts State Police Lieutenant Robert Sayers said.
''We're just saying our prayers and keeping our vigil here,'' Sayers said. Of her condition, he said, ''It's critical. It's very critical.''
Engelhardt, 50, was among the first women to become a state trooper. She entered the academy in February of 1981, less than a decade after the first female entered the ranks, Shubert said.
Co-workers described Engelhardt as the consummate professional, a trooper who went out of her way to mentor other women in the workplace.
''She was very kind, very friendly,'' Fisher said. ''When I came on the job the first day, she made a point to talk to me and asked if I needed any help . . . she was a role model to her shift.''
Shubert said yesterday that it was not known why Engelhardt was stopped in the breakdown lane but noted it was near the end of her shift, and she may have pulled over to observe traffic. Shubert said it was not known yesterday if Engelhardt was wearing a seatbelt when Senne smashed into her car.
Engelhardt had returned to work five months ago after being injured in a similar rear-end crash.
Saturday's accident sent shock waves through the state's law enforcement community. Yesterday, the hospital switchboard was swamped by people offering get-well wishes and calling to check on her, Sayers said.
They've ''received so many phone calls that they're asking people not to call the hospital,'' he said.
In Wayland, friends of Senne said they were shocked by the news of the crash.
''You don't hear about that kind of thing here,'' said Carol Glick, who lives near Senne's home. ''There are two lives ruined.''
Senne was a popular member of his high school class who was planning to attend Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, friends said.
Adam Romanow, one of Senne's friends, described him as ''a gentleman'' who did not have any enemies at school.
He had a passion for sailing, Romanow said, a passion that brought him to the Cape often during the summer.
Engelhardt's passions ran more toward gardening, physical fitness, and vintage cars, her neighbors said yesterday. She was an avid runner who worked out regularly in the barracks gym, and her landscaping ''set the standard for the neighborhood,'' said Jere Downing, who lives next door to Engelhardt in a quiet, seaside neighborhood in Marion.
Engelhardt lives with another state trooper, neighbors said, and two cruisers are frequently parked in the driveway along with two vintage Corvettes that Engelhardt babied.
''We've always felt so safe because we have two state troopers next door,'' Downing said. ''There's just no rhyme or reason sometimes.''