BANGOR, Maine -- A Maine state trooper was killed on Interstate 95 in Bangor on Wednesday morning when he was struck by a tractor-trailer wheel one of two wheels that detached from a passing logging truck while he was assisting a stopped motorist.
Detective Benjamin Campbell, 31, of Millinocket, was killed just south of the Coldbrook Road overpass in the southbound lanes of I-95 just after 7:30 a.m., Maine State Police Colonel John Cote said. Campbell had stopped his department-issued, unmarked Ford Explorer SUV and activated his blue emergency lights to assist a driver who had spun out on a slippery section of roadway, Cote said.
After the two wheel and tire assemblies became detached from the truck, one of the wheels struck Campbell while the other rolled harmlessly into the median. He sustained massive injuries from the impact and was later pronounced dead at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.
Cote said troopers are offering support to Campbell’s family, including his wife, Hillary. Campbell is also survived by a 6-month-old son, Everett.
“We know that together we’ll get through this,” Cote said, holding back emotion. “But it’s been a tough day.”
The driver of the truck, Scott V. Willett, 52, of Patten, is the owner and operator of Scott Willett Trucking, Cote said. He was hauling a load of logs at the time. Willett stopped the vehicle after the tire and wheel assemblies came loose.
In an emotional press conference held at Campbell’s home barracks in Bangor, Cote said he and other members of the state police are struggling to comprehend how the accident occurred. Though he said it appeared to be a freak accident, an investigation is underway to determine how the wheels came loose.
Cote said the state police commercial vehicle enforcement unit is performing a full vehicle autopsy and will conduct all standard investigative steps that typically follow a fatal motor vehicle crash, including a blood test on Willett to determine if he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Investigators also will look at the truck’s inspection records, state police spokesman Steve McCausland said.
Willett owns two tractor-trailers and primarily hauls logs or lumber and potatoes, and is authorized to conduct trucking operations inside Maine but not across state lines, according to the federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates interstate trucking.
Willett has had no moving violations in the last 10 years, according to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. He was twice cited during the same period for commercial vehicle-related issues: in 2009, one of his trucks was found to be over a weight limit, and in 2011, Willett violated regulations that govern how many hours per day a trucker may spend behind the wheel.
According to federal records, both of Willett’s trucks were inspected in 2018. State police did not specify which tractor-trailer was involved in the crash Wednesday. One of Willet’s vehicles, a Freightliner, had no defects when it was inspected in February 2018.
The other truck, a Kenworth, was given a walk-around inspection in June 2018, resulting in violations for the truck being more than 5,000 pounds. over the allowable weight limit. At least one of the truck’s tires also had below the minimum amount of tread.
Maine State Police reinspected the vehicle in November 2018, and conducted a more thorough examination that yielded more safety violations in the steering and the brake systems, along with a fuel leak, which together were serious enough for police to temporarily take the truck out of service until repairs were made.
A message left on a cellphone number listed for Willett was not returned Wednesday night.
The driver of the disabled vehicle, which was partially blocking one lane and was the reason Campbell stopped, was not immediately identified. Cote said that person witnessed Campbell’s injuries and was among the first to call 911.
Cote said Campbell joined the Maine State Police in 2012 and was promoted to detective in 2016. He worked as a member of the state police polygraph team, and was on his way to a training session when he saw the disabled vehicle near the Bangor exit.
Campbell always saw the best in people and stayed optimistic during difficult situations, Cote said. And he had a radiant smile and warmth. People naturally liked to talk to him, a fact that made him a great polygraph examiner, Cote said.
Cote said there is no indication that the driver of the truck had violated state law requiring drivers to slow down and move over for stopped emergency vehicles, but said the truck appeared to have been changing lanes before or during the time the wheels became detached.
Cote said there is no reason to believe the wheel separation was caused by weather. Cote said the initial spinout by the disabled vehicle was likely caused by slippery conditions on a bridge overpass, which typically freeze first.
There was light snow in Bangor around the time of the crash, with temperatures around 33 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
Gov. Janet Mills ordered flags lowered to half staff immediately throughout the state Wednesday, and issued a statement expressing her deepest condolences to the Campbell family.
“Our state is heartbroken over the loss of Detective Benjamin Campbell,” Mills said in the statement. “Maine’s law enforcement professionals put themselves in harm’s way every day to protect our state, keep our communities safe, and help our fellow citizens. Detective Campbell dedicated his career to fulfilling that mission and, ultimately, gave his life in service of it. On behalf of the people of Maine, I express our deepest and unwavering gratitude for his service. Together let us keep his family, friends, and loved ones, along with Maine’s entire law enforcement community, in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”
The last Maine State Trooper killed in the line of duty was Detective Glenn Strange, who died in October 1997 of heart problems, six days after he was punched and kicked in the chest by a drunken-driving suspect being arrested in Linneus.
The Maine State Police force is divided into troops that are each responsible for patrolling a large swath of the state. The stretch of I-95 where the crash occurred is patrolled by Troop E, which also is responsible for all of Penobscot and Piscataquis counties, and is led by Lt. Sean Hashey, according to the state Department of Public Safety.
Campbell’s family has requested that he be given full line-of-duty death honors, and plans for his funeral and memorial will be announced in the coming days, Cote said.
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