“We lost one of our very best, and we’ve certainly lost one of Maine’s very best.”
Those were the heartbreaking words from Maine State Police Col. John Cote on Wednesday, just hours after detective Ben Campbell was killed in an accident on the side of Interstate 95 in Hampden.
On his way to a training exercise, Campbell stopped on the highway to assist the driver of a vehicle that had spun off the road that snowy morning. What happened next, police say, is as seemingly inexplicable as it is tragic. Two tires careened off a passing logging truck, one fatally striking the young trooper.
Campbell, who lived in Millinocket and would have turned 32 on Monday, leaves behind his wife Hilary and 6-month-old son, Everett.
“He always saw the good in whatever was going on,” Cote said. “He always focused on the positive. When he stepped in, the smile was just part of him.”
This is a situation where it is all but impossible to see any good, no matter how positive your outlook. And it is yet another tragic chapter in an already demoralizing past year for Maine first responders. Somerset County Sheriff’s deputy Cpl. Eugene Cole was shot and killed on duty in his hometown of Norridgewock last April, and Berwick firefighter Capt. Joel Barnes died in a fire last month.
But if there is any shred of good to be found in these terrible losses, it’s an accompanying reminder of the strength, compassion, and resilience of Maine’s first responders and the communities they serve every day. Not only do these brave men and women put their lives on the line for their neighbors, but they are there for each other in times of pain and loss — and people across Maine are there for them too.
“Joel died a hero as he ran towards danger — putting his own safety aside — so that the lives of others may be saved,” the North Berwick Fire Department wrote on Facebook about Barnes. “The death of any member of the public safety community is a tragedy, but one this close to home makes everyone associated with first responders hold their loved ones a little bit tighter.”
When a bridge in Norridgewock was dedicated in honor of Cole last fall, Town Manager Richard LaBelle highlighted how tragedy had also brought the community together.
“Over the last several months, our community has been through so much together, from that awful early morning in April, to the rejuvenation of our strong community spirit, we have mourned together and we have celebrated his life together,” LaBelle said during the October ceremony, according to the Morning Sentinel. “Norridgewock is stronger. Somerset county has built a more durable bond. From this great loss we have gained a better perspective, a greater appreciation, and a deeper respect. Gene was a bridge.”
Condolences for Campbell and his family have poured in from law enforcement agencies, first responders, and people from all walks of life across the state. It’s too early to know if anything could have been done to avoid the horrible turn of events on Wednesday; sometimes there is no clear action to be taken, other than to mourn and reflect.
“Our hearts are broken at the loss of our brother Det. Ben Campbell,” the Maine State Police wrote on Instagram. “Thank you all for your support on this terrible day. The kind words we have received bring us comfort. Rest in Peace, brother. We have the watch.”