Berkshires mourn a death, wondering how it could happen

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By Tuesday, May 17 Viewpoints  9 Comments
Prospect Hill Road in Stockbridge, just beyond the entrance to Orleton Farm, where, in the early morning hours of May 6, Great Barrington Police Officer Ryan Storti died in a car crash, his car careening into a willow tree.

Stockbridge — In those moments where destiny appears to have violently stamped its mark, we feel the need to look back to see why and how, to see the signposts along the way, or to find ways it could have been altered.

In this case it is a weeping willow, and a road. A narrow winding country road, one most emblematic of the Berkshires, cutting through the old estates from Stockbridge to Lenox and, with promises of rest and music and fresh air, carrying people to Stockbridge Bowl and beyond to the hedgerows of Tanglewood.

The Olde Heritage Tavern in Lenox.

The Olde Heritage Tavern in Lenox.

But coming the other way, from Lenox, in the early morning hours after Cinco de Mayo, Prospect Hill Road was deadly for a young man, a beloved son of the Berkshires, a respected Great Barrington Police Officer, who after an off-duty night of fun and drinking with friends at the Olde Heritage Tavern in Lenox, left the road, crashed through a fence and hit the massive willow, which bore scant evidence of the 2 a.m. impact.

There are no skid marks. And it is unclear how fast 25-year-old Ryan Storti was going on the wet road. Those details will become known when the State Police complete their accident investigation that includes a reconstruction of the event. But driving the route, it is not hard to see how it happened.

Prospect Hill Road, approaching the site of the accident., with the entrance to Orleton Farm on the right.

Prospect Hill Road, approaching the site of the accident., with the entrance to Orleton Farm on the right.

Before he hit the tree, Storti would have had to navigate a series of corkscrew turns, not to mention a road in which a moment of inattention can land one into any number of thorns: utility poles and trees close to the road; driveways, fences, and for nearly the entire stretch, sloping embankments of different depths. The place where Storti went off the road was one of the steeper slopes in front of Orleton Farm, and the gradual bend of the road to the left just before the tree could give the appearance of a straightaway.

The earth is swampy there, and the tire tracks show a clear path into the willow, where flowers and a cross now mark it.

Newly appointed Stockbridge Police Chief Darrell Fennelly said he wanted to make it clear his department was not “hiding anything,” but said he did not want to release the initial police report until the full investigation was complete. He said Massachusetts State Police were handling the remainder of the investigation and accident reconstruction, which now rests with the Berkshire County District Attorney’s office. DA spokesperson Fred Lantz confirmed that the report was not yet complete and so could not be released. It is unclear whether a toxicology report was made and when that will be released.

The willow tree where Storti's vehicle, a GMC Jimmy, came to rest.

The willow tree where Storti’s vehicle, a GMC Jimmy, came to rest.

It all shines a light on drinking and driving, and also on the complicated matter of restaurant and bar owner responsibility.

The crash came a week after Michael’s Restaurant here had its liquor license suspended for 50 days after a deadly crash in which young patrons hit a utility pole in Great Barrington 17 minutes after they left the bar. Police say owner Michael Abdalla had tampered with the bar’s video surveillance after learning of the crash. Michael’s was also accused of serving alcohol to an intoxicated person and a minor.

We don’t know what happened at the Heritage. Owner John McNinch told The Edge that his bar’s video surveillance was indeed with the police now. He also said while he was there at the beginning of the night, he had to go to the airport later, so didn’t see Storti. The investigation is ongoing, and in time details will be revealed, details that will hopefully show young people in the Berkshires, with its many bars and liquor stores, what can happen.

That said, many of us, especially when we were in our twenties, have been drunk at the wheel or been a passenger in a car where the driver was drunk. Many wonder how they survived their younger years. When something goes wrong the error can affect multiple lives, as we saw in this Great Barrington crash last year.

But a police officer is still a man, a woman, a person; one capable of error, of fun, of love, of joy, and also susceptible to heartbreak just as Ryan Storti’s brothers at the Great Barrington Police Department are now. And it is that humanity and range that gives our police the compassion to deal with the rest of us. We have all been beneficiaries of it in some way.

As the police cortege and hearse carrying Storti inched through Great Barrington last Friday, his fellow officers walking alongside, Rev. Charles Van Aus Dall, despite the commotion and grief around him, stood waiting for Storti in front of First Congregational Church, fixed to his task of receiving this man, honoring his life and easing his passage out of it. Nothing could distract him from that.

The Rev. Charles Van AusDall awaits the funeral procession .

The Rev. Charles Van AusDall awaits the funeral procession .

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9 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Casey says:

    Beautifully written. We lost a great young man that morning, one that in 25 short years managed to touch many hearts. The cause what ever it may end up being is one we will all have to live with. Each and everyone of us must remember this could be one of our family at any time. It only takes one mistake to tear your world to pieces. I don’t have the perfect family to ever make judgement on another, and have yet to meet anyone that does.

  2. JANE says:

    Thank you for your sensitive yet informative article. This is a problem we must all live with here in the Berkshires.

  3. Bruce Bernstein says:

    A lovely, sad message. I appreciate your reminder that when younger many of us drank too much before driving, or were driving tired when we should have been asleep in bed. When I walk around my town of Egremont, I am amazed at the number of beer cans that accumulate by the side of the road. There is a lot of drinking while driving. Somehow we need to do a better job of getting the safety message out and changing that habit. Drivers, passengers and pedestrians are all at risk.

  4. Caitlyn says:

    Please, find something else to write about. I know Berkshire County is boring but all you do is pick current events with tension & run with it, often times being senseless about the issue. Please let it go, Ryan’s family does not need to relive this nightmare over & over again. Ryan is gone & writing articles about him only stirs trouble, it won’t bring him back. Anyone who knew him knew of the amazing, genuine, caring officer and person he was & that’s all we need. Those close to him, which were hundreds, will keep his memory alive. Please move on to something else & stop being so senseless to the issue at hand.

    1. Nancy Timmons says:

      Why wouldn’t you want people to know the truth about drinking and driving. I lost a 15 yrs old brother to a drunk driver. I was angry for a long time…we need to do more…establishments need to do more….bartenders need to stop serving when the very well know the person is intoxicated. While I am truly sorry for the loss of this young man….Let’s not sugar coat it….he drank…he drove…he died.

  5. Abby Pratt says:

    A journalist’s job is to answer the questions everyone has in his mind. I hope the Storti family understands that, or can not read the paper for a week or two. We all feel very sorry for them. Grief is a long, tough battle to wage. RIP,
    Officer Storti.

  6. Susan Pettee, Great Barrington, MA says:

    I agree with Casey Jane, and Bruce. This was a sensitively written story about a good person’s life cut sadly too short. I wish it could be a reminder to those at risk that drinking leads all to often to fatal mistakes. My brother died that way when he was 37.

  7. DB says:

    Is there no message about doing exactly what you are paid to arrest others for here? It is the elephant in the room. Drink driving deaths are always tragic… might have been you he drove into on that dark road, not a tree… might have been your daughter, mother, son, father. Of all the people to drink and drive, a police officer is the last one who should do so. Why is everyone afraid to say it. Most parents who lose a child to a horrible circumstance would do anything to protect others from going thru the same experience. Not talking about it changes nothing.
    Blaming the dark, the road, the tree? It does not help anyone here. Conversation…over and over.

  8. Ted B. says:

    A very well written article indeed.
    And a very very sad event.
    If you had watched the TV stations out of near by Albany, NY. They reported that the incident had happen after the officer “got off his shift” !
    Unfortunately , this sort of tragedy happens somewhere everyday in the US , you just don’t know who or were !

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