JONESPORT, Maine — The sister communities of Jonesport and Beals were reeling Wednesday after a local family of three was killed Tuesday in a car crash in Dedham.
“We’re all just trying to support each other,” said Michele Libby of Jonesport, a friend of the family.
Carlos A. Tapia, 34, his wife, Rachelle Tapia, 23, and Rachelle Tapia’s 4-year-old daughter, Mackenzie Gray, all of Jonesport, were pronounced dead at the scene. Their vehicle and a pickup truck collided head-on late Tuesday afternoon on U.S. Route 1A in Dedham moments after a heavy downpour.
The Tapias were just married at the end of June, friends recalled, and were being remembered as caring, happy people.
“This little family is the quintessential story of the American dream come true,” Nan Ellis of Jonesport said Wednesday.
A native of Peru, Carlos Tapia became a U.S. citizen and joined the Coast Guard, Ellis said. “These were his dreams, along with having a family, and his dreams came true.”
She described Tapia as a polite, cheerful young man who often playfully fought with her over “custody” of her family’s dog.
“We have so few young men with this size heart, integrity and love of his country,” she said.
Rachelle Parker Tapia, a Beals Island native, was a senior nursing student at Husson University in Bangor and also worked full time at Maine Coast Memorial Hospital in Ellsworth.
On her Facebook page, Rachelle Tapia wrote on Aug. 15: “School in two weeks!!! Senior year here i come. Looks like all the hard work is going to pay off :-) Its been a long six years. Some of the best and worst times of my life. All in all i am proud of who i am and what i have done. Without family it would never have been possible. Thank you so much :-)”
Rachelle Tapia was headed from classes at Husson to her job at the hospital when the accident happened, according to Debi Murphy, manager of Maine Coast Memorial’s medical surgical unit.
“Her husband and daughter were dropping her off on their way back home,” Murphy said Wednesday. She said Tapia, who worked for the last two years as a certified nurse’s aide on the medical-surgical floor, had been scheduled to work at 5 p.m. Tuesday and that co-workers became deeply concerned when she hadn’t shown up by 7 p.m. and they could not contact her.
“Because we’re health care professionals, we deal with death and dying often,” Murphy said. Even so, she said, Tapia’s death has hit her co-workers especially hard. “It’s like losing a member of your family.”
At Husson, Tapia consistently made the dean’s list. spokeswoman Julie Green said Wednesday.
“She would have graduated at the end of this [academic] year,” Green said, adding that Tapia also would have been recognized during an advancement ceremony for nursing students set for Sunday afternoon.
“She was just a hard worker who never complained. She elevated everyone around her,” said Elizabeth Clark, director of Husson’s nursing program. “She was very supportive of her peers, always positive. She was bright and capable and a very thoughtful student who was really sensitive to the needs of patients.”
Clark said Tapia’s death was a blow to both the students who knew her and the faculty members who taught her.
An informal gathering is planned from 2 to 4 p.m. today in the campus chapel for those in the Husson community who would like to share memories or readings, express feelings or perhaps have a moment of silence. A chaplain will be available, Clark said.
In addition to grief counseling to those who need it, Husson is working on a tribute to Tapia’s life, she said. Plans were still being worked on Wednesday.
“We want to see what students would like to do,” Clark said.
Corrie Hunkler of Beals Island, who grew up with Rachelle Tapia, said she was “heartbroken” when she heard the news.
Hunkler is on a cross-country trip and contacted the Bangor Daily News by phone Wednesday from Washington, D.C., to share her thoughts about Rachelle Tapia.
“She was always so much fun and we always had great adventures,” Hunkler said. “Rachelle wanted to live every day to the fullest.”
Hunkler was also among the friends and family members who described Rachelle’s daughter, Mackenzie Gray, as “a doll” and “a light.”
“Although she loved wearing pink and getting her nails polished, she could drive a four-wheeler all by herself,” Hunkler said of the girl. “She had a great spirit.”
Amanda O’Connor of Jonesport said her husband Charles, who is currently deployed in the Middle East with the Coast Guard, worked for a time alongside Carlos Tapia at the Jonesport station.
Every time Carlos saw me he would give me the biggest hug and say, “‘It’s so close. He’ll be home soon.’ I drew a great deal of strength from him.”
O’Connor said Rachelle Tapia was a graduate of Jonesport-Beals High School and was a “wonderful mother and hard worker. She was working very hard to better her and her daughter’s life. They were all pretty incredible people.”
Chief William Dennis at the Jonesport Coast Guard Station said Carlos Tapia was “an excellent member of the Jonesport crew and was devoted to his wife.”
Tapia was a boat engineer and a member of the Search and Rescue Team. Dennis said his three-year enlistment was to have ended in February and he planned to pursue a career as a mechanical engineer.
USCG Chaplain Michael Smith arrived from Boston on Wednesday to provide counseling for the Jonesport Coast Guard families.
“It is a pretty tight-knit unit here,” he said. “And that makes it easier. They provide mutual support for each other.”
Smith said a group session was held Wednesday for the Coast Guard members and their spouses and that individuals had been seeking his guidance all morning.
The three family members, who were traveling in a green 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt, died at the accident scene, Deputy Chris Thornton of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department said Tuesday evening.
The driver of the other vehicle, Stephen S. Glickman, 43, of Orono suffered injuries believed to include a broken ankle and other leg injuries, Thornton said.
Glickman was taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.
The crash happened at about 4 p.m., a little more than a mile past the Lucerne Inn, when Carlos Tapia, who was driving south, failed to negotiate a slight curve in the roadway, crossed over the centerline and into the path of Glickman’s pickup, according to police.
All of the people involved were wearing seat belts and the crash remains under investigation.
Funeral arrangements were not available Wednesday.
Bangor Daily News writer Dawn Gagnon contributed to this report.