UMaine professor loses leg after being struck by lawn mower blade on passing trailer

Nathan Godfried
University of Maine photo
Nathan Godfried
Posted Aug. 19, 2013, at 1:37 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 20, 2013, at 10:12 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A University of Maine history professor’s left leg has been amputated after what police called a “freak accident” in Passadumkeag over the weekend, according to the chairman of the university’s history department.

Professor Nathan Godfried, who specializes in 20th-century American history, was riding his bike along Route 2 Sunday afternoon when a blade from a lawnmower being towed on a trailer struck Godfried’s leg, according to Richard Judd, chairman of UMaine’s history department.

Judd said he has been told that Godfried’s left leg has been amputated since the crash. An Eastern Maine Medical Center spokesperson said Monday that Godfried is listed in fair condition.

“Nathan’s not up for visitors yet today, so we’re hoping to go see him tomorrow,” Judd said.

Godfried is married to Elizabeth McKillen, also a professor in UMaine’s history department. Godfried’s son, Isaac McKillen-Godfried, was riding with his father when Godfried was struck, according to Judd. McKillen-Godfried is preparing to attend Brandeis University this fall, Judd said.

Police say an eight-foot blade on a John Deere mower being towed on a trailer by a truck came loose — falling from an upright to a lowered position — without the driver’s knowledge and struck Godfried’s leg when the truck attempted to pass. The blade nearly severed Godfried’s leg, according to police.

The Warren man driving the truck was taking the 1984 John Deere tractor to camp when the incident happened, according to Penobscot County Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Fitch, who investigated the accident. The tractor had a rear-mounted mower similar to the ones used to trim growth in rural ditches, Fitch said.

No charges will be filed in connection with the crash, which Fitch called a “freak accident.”

“The driver used the factory-installed device, which is made to secure the blade,” Fitch said, but the device that holds the blade up failed. The driver couldn’t be charged with failing to secure his load because he took reasonable steps to ensure that the tractor was safely secured on the trailer.

“There’s no criminal intent or reckless conduct on [the driver’s] behalf that created this situation,” Fitch said.

Godfried’s injuries could have been far more severe had the driver not taken a wide berth and slowed down when passing the bicyclist, according to Fitch.

Police believe the truck was traveling around 35 mph in a 55-mph zone when the 8-foot blade hit Godfried’s leg. Had the driver passed more closely, Godfried might have been knocked off his bicycle and into the path of the blade.

“He did everything right in that manner,” Fitch said of the driver.

Police credited a passing nurse for stopping at the crash scene and helping to stem the flow of blood until medics arrived, according to a report in the Kennebec Journal.

“We’re all just shocked in the department here that this happened, and we’re sending out our condolences to his family,” Judd said.

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