HOPE, Maine — Teenagers cried and hugged one another near a tall, leafless tree here Tuesday, the day after three young people died in a single-vehicle crash at the site.
Driver Daniel Dodge II, 21, of Hope and passengers Katie Kelly, 17, of Rockland and Misti Leach, 14, of South Thomaston were killed when the 1989 Ford 150 pickup they were in crashed into the tree around 10:45 p.m. Monday. Police had not yet determined the cause of the crash Tuesday afternoon, but said speed may have been a factor.
Around 3:30 a.m. Tuesday Mackenzie Kelly and his father awoke to the police knocking at the door to tell them Mackenzie’s twin sister, Katie, had died.
“I panicked,” the 17-year-old said Tuesday afternoon as he and his friends stood at the crash site.
He said his sister was “an all-around good person. If I needed help, she would be there.”
It was misty and overcast as Katie Kelly’s best friend, Fontana Jackson, stood beside Mackenzie Kelly at the tree.
“We’ve decided to stick together,” she said.
Jackson, 17, left two $1 bills under the tree, which by Tuesday had become a memorial with roses and pictures laid at its base.
“Mostly we’d drive around in my car and honk at people. Every dollar we had went to McDonald’s,” she said. “We’d hang out every single day — I don’t remember one day we didn’t go to McDonald’s.”
She said the $2 under the tree represented the sandwiches the girls would have bought Tuesday. Katie Kelly would have had a McDouble.
Kyle Farley, 19, of Hope also stood on the shoulder of the road near the tree thinking about his friends. He knew Dodge, Kelly and Leach.
“It affected a whole lot of people. Everyone knew Dan in Hope, Appleton, Lincolnville,” Farley said. “All three of them are connected to everyone.”
Kelly was a Rockland District High School student and Leach attended eighth grade at Rockland Middle School. The three crash victims were friends.
According to the Maine Department of Public Safety, Dodge was driving the truck from Rockland to his home, located just three miles from the crash site, when the car “went out of control on the Barnestown Road, overturned onto its side and slid into a tree. The two girls were killed instantly and Dodge also died at the scene after being freed from the wreckage using the Jaws of Life.”
Only Leach was wearing a seat belt.
Police were investigating speed as a potential contributing factor, and, as is standard in all fatal crashes in Maine, the driver’s blood alcohol level was being tested.
On Tuesday morning, a friend of Dodge and his family recalled the young man.
“He was a good kid. He liked hunting, fishing; he was a real outgoing kid,” said John Holbrook of Hope as he stood at the tree. “He was like a son to me. I am friends with his dad.”
Referring to a hunter orange hat placed beside roses under the tree, he said, “His dad must have left it there for him.”
The schools the girls attended were both somber Tuesday.
At Rockland District Middle School, Kevin Martin, a school counselor said that some students had to leave for the day after finding out about Leach’s death.
“It’s a sad day in our school,” Martin said.
Down the road at Rockland District High School, friends cried for Kelly.
“It’s a somber place today, no doubt about it,” principal Tom Forti said. “A lot of emotion. Probably healthy. Kids are getting it out. [In a] small, close-knit school like we are, and the community anyway, these things hit hard.”
Forti said the school has a plan in place for when a tragedy occurs. School officials began implementing that plan around 6 a.m. Tuesday, providing students and faculty with access to counselors.