‘A black mass,’ then darkness: Clifton man speaks of events that led to the death of Detective Ben Campbell

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
Maine State Police check a damaged vehicle while they investigate a fatal crash at mile marker 179 on the southbound side of Interstate 95 in Hampden on April 3.
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Robert John Anthony estimates he has slept about 3½ hours a night since a spinout during a snowstorm on Interstate 95 last week began the chain of events that led to the death of State Police Detective Ben Campbell.
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Robert John Anthony estimates he has slept about 3½ hours a night since a spinout during a snowstorm on Interstate 95 last week began the chain of events that led to the death of State Police Detective Ben Campbell.

During an interview on Monday, the 25-year-old Clifton man recalled seeing a glimpse of a logging truck tire — what he called “a black mass” — in his peripheral vision in a flash before it struck and killed Campbell. He has been in shock ever since, he said.

“I have just been numb since the experience. I don’t even know how to react to the world anymore,” Anthony said.

Courtesy of Robert John Anthony
Courtesy of Robert John Anthony
Robert John Anthony says he has been in shock ever since his spinout during a snowstorm on Interstate 95 last week began a chain of events that led to the death of State Police Detective Ben Campbell.

State police released Anthony’s name on Sunday in response to a media request and because Anthony posted a description of the accident on Facebook under an anonymous account — the name of the language spoken by dragons in Skyrim, a video game. The BDN reached out to him Monday and confirmed he authored the Facebook post, which he said he wrote to “vent.”

“I didn’t have anybody I could talk to on a very deep level,” he said. “At the same time I didn’t want to talk about it, but it was just eating at me. I had to write something.”

State police continue to investigate the incident. The driver of the truck, Scott Willett, 52, of Patten, has not been charged. In the meantime, Campbell’s funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.

Anthony expressed deep sympathy for Campbell’s family but does not think he could handle attending his funeral. “I’m not saying I wouldn’t ever want to be there,” Anthony said. “I just don’t think I can do it.”

[Detective killed on I-95 would always ‘see the good in people’]

The day had begun typically enough for Anthony. Unemployed, he lives with his parents and over the years has worked a series of jobs, including as a bindery associate for a calendar-book printer and as an event specialist — “a free-sample guy,” as he called it — at Sam’s Club. He has struggled with health issues and hopes to go back to school to become an electrician, he said.

He was driving south on I-95 to a Merrymeeting Adult Education class in Topsham he takes on Wednesdays when his white Nissan Sentra hit what he thinks was a patch of black ice. It spun 180 degrees before it came to a halt. In the right lane but facing the wrong way, Anthony backed the sedan off the road into the emergency lane.

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
A damaged Nissan Sentra is towed away from the scene of an accident in Hampden on April 3.

“I had called 911. I was fine and the car was fine. I just needed help turning around,” Anthony said.

He knew he was in a dangerous spot. It was just starting to snow, and he had just come over a hill crest that made it difficult for oncoming traffic to see him, Anthony said.

Campbell was on his way to a training assignment but stopped to help.

“He took my ID, went back to his vehicle, ran it, and came back and said, ‘No problem.’ They were going to have another trooper go to the top of the hill to direct traffic,” Anthony said. “At about that moment, a logging truck had come over the hill.”

“I didn’t initially pay any mind to the truck,” Anthony said. “I turned back to Detective Campbell, and all of a sudden, like within an instant, it happened. I vaguely remember seeing a black mass that I know now was a truck tire.”

Anthony said he recalls seeing Campbell jump back slightly. Anthony blacked out momentarily as, presumably, the wheel hit Campbell and Anthony’s Sentra.

“I regained consciousness. I was blind and deaf for a couple seconds, but then my ears started to ring and I started to be able to see again,” Anthony said.

[‘I did not know him, but I know many like him’: Maine first responders pay respects to detective killed on highway]

His airbag had deployed, crushing his glasses against the side of his face, and the front end of his car was caved in. The hood was bent up and the driver’s side mirror was destroyed, Anthony said.

Anthony exited the Nissan and saw that Campbell had been thrown about 25 feet.

“I had gone over and tried to check on him. I wasn’t sure how badly he was injured,” Anthony said.

Anthony called 911 and began jumping up and down to attract help from passersby. He estimated that about five minutes passed before the arrival of a second state trooper, whose name Anthony didn’t recall.

Willett, the driver of the logging truck, arrived at about the same time. He had stopped the truck about a quarter-mile down the road, Anthony said.

“He was just as panicked as I was. From his perspective it is just as traumatizing. Those were his tires on his truck,” Anthony said.

Willett and the trooper started performing CPR on Campbell. The trooper compressed Campbell’s chest as Willett pushed air into his lungs with a breathing tube and mask that the trooper gave him, Anthony said.

[Key question about Detective Campbell’s death: Why did wheels detach from logging trailer?]

Anthony wept as more emergency personnel arrived, and the trauma overtook him. It was at about this time that Trooper Owen Reed interviewed him about the accident in a kind and gentle manner, Anthony said.

“He said, ‘Don’t hesitate to contact me for anything,’” Anthony said. “I can’t really name any specific words or phrases he used, but he handled everything from escorting me away to taking my statement, all while he was trying to reassure me. And while I wasn’t really in a state of mind to be expecting reassurance, I do know that he was genuinely trying to help.”

Anthony expects Campbell’s death will haunt him for a long time.

“All I can think about is all the negatives surrounding it all,” he said. “It is just a lot to deal with.”

 



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