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Cause of deadly head-on crash sought

Niagara County investigators are still trying to determine what occurred in a head-on collision that took the life of two drivers Friday, but they suspect one of the drivers may have swerved just before the crash to avoid an animal that had wandered onto Beebe Road.

Niagara County Sheriff's Investigator Charles Baker called the case "frustrating."

"We can speculate all day long, but we may never know why he crossed the line," Baker said of Clarford Tapper, 53, whose car crossed the center line and struck a vehicle driven by Deanna Dormagen, 59, of Ransomville, coming from the opposite direction. Both drivers were pronounced dead at the scene.

A service was held Tuesday in Ransomville for Dormagen. Services for Tapper will be at 6:30 p.m. today in Rutland-CorwinFuneral Home in Newfane.

Dormagen, a mother of six, was heading to work in the cafeteria of Delphi Thermal Systems when the accident happened at 5:23 a.m. in the 3800 block of Beebe Road. She had formerly worked at Ed's Country Store, a few blocks from the scene of the crash.

Tapper, a native of Jamaica, was married and worked on Voelpel Farms on North Beebe Road, several miles from the crash scene. He also lived on the farm as a seasonal farm worker. His employer, John H. Voelpel, said Tapper was the father of six or seven children and was well-liked.

Baker said both drivers were wearing seat belts and Tampper had an air bag but said the force of the crash was like "hitting a brick wall at 110 miles per hour."

Tapper also was driving to work after visiting a friend in Lockport. There have been questions about whether he could have been intoxicated, but most signs point to something else, according to investigators.

Baker said Tapper may have swerved into the path of Dormagen to avoid hitting an animal. He said speed does not appear to be a factor because both drivers were going about the speed limit on the 55-mph road. Baker said skid marks from both cars suggest Tapper likely did not fall asleep but was reacting to something in the road.

"We would love to know, but sometimes you never know," the investigator said.

Coroner Russell Jackman said toxicology tests to check for alcohol will take about four weeks, adding, "At this point we don't suspect anything. Five or six people have called me as I've been investigating this. Everything I've heard about [Tapper] is that he is real nice and real dependable."

Voelpel said his fellow workers had requested a local funeral service to say goodbye to their friend before he is taken back to Jamaica.

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com

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