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Taunton man ignored cries for help after causing crash that killed Fall River woman: cops

In World
April 11, 2024

TAUNTON — A Taunton man who police say was speeding and driving drunk when he caused a head-on crash that killed a beloved Fall River school crossing guard was arraigned Wednesday morning in Taunton District Court and ordered held on $25,000 bail.

Ricky J. Ponte, 29, allegedly drove his Mercedes sedan into a Honda CRV being driven by 67-year-old Margaret “Peggy” McGowan, after police say Ponte tried to illegally pass another vehicle while heading west on Route 44 in Taunton.

McGowan died 18 days later in Rhode Island Hospital a day after she was taken off life support, authorities said.

The crash happened on Saturday night, March 10, at around 9:15 p.m. after McGowan — who grew up and worked in Taunton before retiring and moving to Fall River — had picked up her 16-year-old niece, after the girl had finished working a shift at a nearby restaurant, police said.

Ricky J. Ponte, 29, of Taunton, is arraigned on a charge of motor vehicle negligent homicide while under the influence of alcohol and other charges Wednesday, April 9, 2024, in Taunton District Court in connection with the crash on March 10, 2024, in Taunton that claimed the life of beloved Fall River crossing guard Margaret "Peggy" McGowan. Ponte, who was also injured in the crash, appeared in court in a wheelchair.

What is suspect charged with?

Ponte, a resident of Taunton’s Whittenton neighborhood, is charged with four criminal counts: motor vehicle, negligent homicide while under the influence of alcohol; causing serious injury while driving under the influence; leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death; and leaving the scene resulting in personal injury.

A male passenger in Ponte’s car survived without apparent injuries and called 911, police said.

Police say forensic evidence shows Ponte had been driving at least 70 mph in a 40 mph zone. He was subsequently interviewed in Rhode Island Hospital where he was treated for a fractured hip and ankle.

Suspect allegedly admitted he’s been drinking

Ponte allegedly told cops he had no recollection of the crash or where he had been driving earlier that night and had no memory of having a passenger in his car.

Ponte also allegedly admitted to police the night of the crash that he had been drinking. When asked how much, his response was “not enough,” cops said.

Beloved Fall River crossing guard Margaret "Peggy" McGowan died of her injuries on March 28, 2023, after she was hit by an allegedly drunk driver in Taunton on March 10, 2024.

Beloved Fall River crossing guard Margaret “Peggy” McGowan died of her injuries on March 28, 2023, after she was hit by an allegedly drunk driver in Taunton on March 10, 2024.

What does surveillance video show?

A surveillance video that police say was extracted from a nearby used car business that night was played in court in advance of Judge Michael Brennan’s bail imposition

Police say the video shows the Mercedes swerving and crashing into the front end of McGowan’s small SUV — despite evasive measures she took by slowing down and pulling into the breakdown lane of the two-lane Route 44.

Moments after the crash, McGowan’s teenage niece, who suffered a broken ankle, can be heard on the audio portion of the recording screaming for help, according to Assistant District Attorney Charlie Schofield.

A state police report states that Ponte — who came into court on crutches before being handcuffed and placed in a wheelchair — never responded to the girl’s frantic pleas after the violent, deadly crash, and instead “casually” walked away from the scene as he made his way to a nearby Irving Gas station.

The crash site on Route 44, also known as Winthrop Street, sits in a no-pass zone with solid yellow lines separating two lanes of travel, police said.

Ponte, according to a night clerk at the gas station, was bleeding from the head when he stumbled into the gas station and convenience store building, police said.

The clerk told police he offered the store’s landline phone to Ponte before he went into the bathroom.

But police say Ponte, who left his cell phone in his wrecked Mercedes, never dialed 911 and instead called his mother, who also didn’t call 911 and instead drove to the gas station.

Ponte’s passenger allegedly told police that his friend had possibly smoked some marijuana earlier in the night. Police also said surveillance video and subsequent interviews indicated the two men had spent a short time in a nearby pub before heading west on Winthrop Street.

Police also noted that a search of the Mercedes turned up a “hoisting license” issued to Ponte authorizing him to operate an industrial vehicle that can lift cranes, winches and other heavy equipment.

Pontes is scheduled to return to court on June 26 for a pretrial hearing.

A career dedicated to helping others

McGowan had a career first as an attendant at the former Paul A. Dever School for people with intellectual disabilities before becoming a case manager for the Department of Developmental Disabilities in Plymouth, according to her obituary.

Retired Taunton police Lt. Paul Roderick says he attended the funeral wake in Fall River last week for McGowan at the Waring Sullivan Cherry Place funeral home.

Roderick says McGowan was his late brother’s sister-in-law. He said he was impressed and surprised by the number of people who turned out to pay their respects.

“I was dumbfounded. I didn’t know Peggy knew all these people,” Roderick said.

He said McGowan lived alone on nearby Hanover Street and was known for her dedication to being a crossing guard at Spencer Borden Elementary School.

“It took me an hour and a half to get to the casket. The fact that so many people came spoke volumes about the kind of person she was,” Roderick said.

He estimates at least 300 people showed up and waited in line to get inside the funeral home, including many students and teachers.

“To see the warmth of these people was really something,” Roderick said.

This article originally appeared on The Enterprise: Taunton man arraigned in crash that killed Fall River crossing guard

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