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Overland Tour Participant Dies from Crash Injuries

By Stephen Dravis
Williamstown Correspondent

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — An eastern Massachusetts woman has died as the result of injuries sustained in Arkansas during bicycle tour organized by Williamstown's Overland Summers.

On Friday, a message on Overland's website confirmed that Merritt Levitan of Milton had died. The company had previously announced it was suspending the tour in which Levitan was participating and making arrangements for the return of the participants.

"Yesterday morning we received confirmation that Merritt Levitan of Milton, Massachusetts, died as a result of injuries sustained in a terrible incident that occurred outside of McCrory, Arkansas, while participating in an Overland bicycle touring program," a note credited to Overland founder and director Tom Costley reads. "Liz and I, and the entire Overland community, are heartsick by this tragic loss. We extend our deepest condolences to Merritt’s family, friends and loved ones."

According to a report on the Associated Press, Levitan was 18.

On Thursday, the company announced its decision to call off the remainder of the American Challenge Two, which was to take a group of 13 bicyclists (including two leaders) from Charletson, S.C., to Los Angeles in six weeks.

On Tuesday, a vehicle hit some of the riders in Woodruff County, Ark., sending seven riders to the hospital.

When the decision was announced Thursday to cancel the remainder of the trip, four were still hospitalized, including one in critical condition.

"Tom and Liz [Costley] spent the evening with the remaining eight group members in Arkansas," read a separate blog entry on the Overland site on Thursday. "Counselors were also present. At this point, we continue to express our deepest concern for the injured individuals and their families and our gratitude for the incredible outpouring of support among the professionals, emergency personnel, law enforcement officers and communities of Arkansas and Tennessee."

Overland is accredited by the American Camp Association and licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. It overs hiking, biking, language and travel experiences worldwide.

From the Associated Press report:

"Prosecutors are considering filing charges against the 21-year-old driver who struck the cyclists, but prosecutor John Bell said no charges had been filed as of Thursday.

"Bell has said there wasn't any evidence of alcohol in the driver's bloodstream, but he said authorities were looking into whether anything else, such as a cellphone, was involved in the crash."

Levitan was a recent graduate of Milton Academy and planned to attend Colgate University in the fall.

"The best way to describe her is that she is the person everyone went to with any kind of problem," Abby Lebovitz, 17, a teammate of Levitans on the Milton girls tennis team, told the Boston Globe. "She was always there for anyone. It didn’t matter if she wasn’t your best friend; she was just there."

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Overland Bikers Injured in Arkansas Crash

Staff Reports

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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A group of bicyclists participating in an Overland cross-country trip were struck by a car in Arkansas on Tuesday afternoon.

Arkansas State Police say seven people were injured on State Highway 17, two miles north of McCroy, when a northbound car struck the cyclists in the back of a group of 13 at about 4:35 p.m.

Overland's founders Tom and Liz Costley of Williamstown are in Arkansas with the families, according to updates on the Overland website. Two staff members are also there.

Three people were airlifted from the highway to hospitals in Memphis, Tenn., and Little Rock. Four others were taken to local hospitals by ambulance, according to state police. The driver of the car was not injured.

Overland, which offers a range of summer camps and outdoor adventures for teens and youngsters, is headquartered on Spring Street. The cyclists were participating in a cross-county trip, the 3,000-mile American Challenge, that began two weeks ago in South Carolina and was set to finish at the Santa Monica Pier in California at the beginning of August.

In a statement from Overland posted late Wednesday morning, five of those injured were still in the hospital, one in critical condition. Two others were released. Overland's clientele comes from around the country; it was not clear if any of those injured were local residents.

Overland said it would continue to update its site as more information became available:

"We continue to express our deepest concern for those injured and for their families, and reiterate our gratitude to responding emergency personnel, including responding law enforcement personnel. We appreciate the support we have received from professionals, families and friends in the area, as well as the support from the community of Overland families and leaders."

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Williamstown Police Seeking Suspect in Armed Assault

Williamstown Police

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Police are seeking information about an armed assault that occurred Sunday at about 9:30 p.m. at the intersection of South and Main streets.

The victim reported being approached from behind by the assailant, who assaulted and held a knife on the victim while looking for money.

The victim was able to get free and call for help. The invidual was treated at North Adams Regional Hospital for minor facial injuries sustained in the altercation.

The suspect is described a white male, about 6-foot-tall, wearing a dark jacket with a hooded sweat shirt underneath and a beanie hat, or tocque. The victim was not identified.

Williamstown Police are asking that residents report any suspicious behavior or motor vehicles immediately by dialing the department 413-458-5733 or the emergency 911 number. Anyone with information about this specific incident is asked to contact Sgt. Scott McGowan at the department number.
 

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Williamstown Man Facing Child Exploitation Charges

Staff Reports

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The U.S. attorney's office has charged a Williamstown man of sexual exploitation of children.

Ronald Brown, 50, is accused of meeting a 16-year-old boy online and arranging for the boy to run away. Brown, a Level 2 registered sex offender, allegedly engaged the boy in a longer series of texts, chat sessions and email involving explicit sexual communications. On Jan. 8, Brown viewed the child masturbating on Skype and received naked photos, said prosecutors.

Brown allegedly also purchased a one-way ticket for the boy to fly to Newark, N.J., sent him $150 for traveling expenses and instructed him to erase the files on his computer. On Jan. 19, the boy flew to meet Brown.

Brown was later stopped by police as they were on their way toward Massachusetts.

The case was investigated with the assistance of the Williamstown Police Department, state police, and the New York State Police. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven H. Breslow.

The maximum sentence under the statute is 50 years in prison, followed by a lifetime of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. The affadavit against Brown can be viewed here.

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Williamstown Road Closed Briefly for Car off the Road

By Stephen Dravis
Williamstown Correspondent

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Police on late Monday afternoon were at the scene of a single-car accident on Syndicate Road.

Officers at the scene said no one was injured in the incident, in which the car with New York license plates apparently slid off the storm-slickened road and downhill toward the Hoosic River.

A tow truck from Ron's Auto Repair on Main Street pulled the car back onto the road. The road was closed for fewer than 15 minutes.

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