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A Maine State Police detective was struck and killed Wednesday morning on Interstate 95 in Hampden in what Col. John Cote called a “bizarre” accident.
Ben Campbell was outside his cruiser at the site of a disabled vehicle south of the Coldbrook Road overpass at about 7:30 a.m. when he was struck by a tire that had separated from the wheel of a logging truck, Cote said Wednesday afternoon at a press conference in Bangor.
“Bizarre is the only word I can think of,” Cote said. “It defies explanation.”
Headed to a training assignment in Augusta where he was scheduled to be the instructor, Campbell had pulled to the side of the road to assist a car that had spun off the southbound lanes and was pointed north during Wednesday morning’s snowfall. As a logging truck approached the scene, two tires separated from the front axle on the trailer. One rolled into the median between the northbound and southbound lanes while the other struck Campbell, then the vehicle he was assisting.
The colonel said the commercial vehicle division would go over the tractor-trailer to determine why the tires came off the front passenger side of the three-axle trailer loaded with logs. The truck was driven by Scott Willett, 52, of Patten, the owner of Scott Willett Trucking.
Willett stopped after he realized what happened. He was taken in for a blood test, which is standard in a fatal accident, Cote said. Results were not available late Wednesday.
Information about the disabled vehicle Campbell stopped to help was not released at the press conference. Cote said the driver witnessed the detective being struck by one of the tires and was the first to call 911.
Campbell, 31, lived in Millinocket with his wife, Hilary, and a six-month-old son, Everett, according to Cote. He was a detective with the polygraph unit.
Campbell was taken to Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, where he died, Cote said.
Funeral plans are pending. Once family members arrive from Massachusetts, where Campbell grew up, his body will be taken to the Maine Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy, which is standard procedure, Cote said. It will be escorted to Augusta by troopers in a caravan.
“This has been a tough day,” Cote told members of the media, his voice breaking with emotion. “It has been a tragic day for the Campbell family with the loss of Detective Campbell. We lost one of our very best, and we’ve certainly lost one of Maine’s very best.”
Maine State Police detectives and troopers, along with members of the Maine Warden Service, crowded into the conference room where the press conference was held and the break room behind it.
“Ben Campbell was one of our very best and well liked,” Cote said. “This is going to be a loss.”
Police closed the southbound lanes of I-95 just north of the crash site and diverted traffic at Exit 180 following the crash. The southbound lanes had reopened by early Wednesday afternoon.
Campbell’s death is the first line-of-duty death of a state trooper since Oct. 17, 1997, when Detective Glenn Strange died of a heart attack after a drunken driver kicked and punched him in the chest in Linneus, according to the Maine State Police. Eleven troopers have died in the line of duty since 1924, four of them in the 1990s.
So far this year, 29 police officers across the U.S. have died in the line of duty, including six who were struck by vehicles, according to the website Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks officers’ line-of-duty deaths. In recent years, the number of officers killed annually after being struck by vehicles has hovered around five.
Gov. Janet Mills directed that the U.S. and Maine flags be flown at half-staff on Wednesday in Campbell’s honor. Mills also ordered that flags be lowered on the day of his funeral service.
“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,” Mills said in a statement. “Detective Campbell dedicated his career to fulfilling that mission and, ultimately, gave his life in service of it.”
Campbell would have turned 32 on Monday.
BDN writers Christopher Burns and Charles Eichacker contributed to this report.