PORTLAND, Maine — Col. John Cote, commander of the Maine State Police, said Detective Ben Campbell’s unwavering “positive outlook” helped “others see the light in some of our darkest days.”
“He understood [that] just because he was arresting someone did not mean that person was a career criminal,” Cote, his voice cracking with emotion, told a full, but quiet Cross Insurance Arena crowd Tuesday morning. “Ben would talk to those folks and through those conversations, he would learn that many times the conduct that led to the arrest was simply the result of problems and circumstances within that person’s life.
“His constant smile, genuine compassion for people and his respect for them was evident to those he dealt with,” he continued.
Approximately 3,000 people filled the Portland arena for Campbell’s memorial service. The state trooper was killed Wednesday when two wheels detached from a passing logging truck and one hit the officer on the side of Interstate 95 in Hampden, where Campbell was helping a motorist who’d gone off the road in that morning’s snowstorm.
Campbell’s casket, draped in an American flag, was escorted by six fellow state troopers down the arena’s center aisle following a procession that included police and deputies carrying flags from the five other New England states and all 16 Maine counties.
More than three dozen police bagpipe players and drummers led the casket and filled the air with somber notes as thousands of troopers, deputies and police in dress uniforms stood in salute on both sides of the aisle.
“Ben had an infectious smile and a special way of looking at you. You simply couldn’t help but love the guy,” said Lt. Sean Hashey, a former supervisor of Campbell with the state police’s Troop E, which patrols Penobscot and Piscataquis counties. “Negativity and complaining simply weren’t part of Ben’s life.”
Polygraph Supervisor Terry James attributed Campbell’s strength and positivity to his upbringing by his parents — Nancy and Jim — and the support of wife Hilary. Campbell, who lived in Millinocket, also leaves behind a 6-month-old son, Everett.
“Good things take a lifetime, but what’s good and right can be taken from you in an instant,” James said, adding: “What justice is there when something like this happens? What kind of world do we live in when a kind, brave young husband and father stops his car to help someone out and a second later is gone? Yesterday he should have celebrated his 32nd birthday and not have to be cremated.”
The otherwise silent crowd Tuesday only applauded once, after remarks by Campbell’s wife, Hilary, who thanked the first responders on the scene the day of his death.
“If there’s anything I can say as I try to wrap my head around this, it would be for all of you to slow down and take life in,” she said through tears. “Life gets crazy. Small things become larger than they should and get more attention than they deserve. If you’re mad at a loved one, that’s OK. But let it go. Don’t let negative emotions fill your heart.”
To her husband, she said: “I love you with every piece of my being. I promise to raise our son the way that we planned. I promise to try to have your patience. I promise your son will know who you are. I promise to try to make you proud. I promise to let Everett pick his favorite NFL team, but I can’t promise I won’t nudge him toward the Patriots if he starts to like the Steelers. We love you, Daddy.”
Cote said that “at Ben’s very core was a cornerstone of integrity, a foundation of selfless service, sacrifice and, at his center, the part that made him special, Ben had the heart of a guardian.”
The colonel said that guardian’s heart sometimes showed itself in unusual ways. He recalled a case when a caller reported that someone abandoned five domesticated rabbits along Interstate 95 in Medway “during one of the coldest days of that winter.” The caller was worried the rabbits wouldn’t survive, Cote said.
“Despite their dire situation, Ben found that none of the rabbits thought being rescued was a good idea,” he recalled. “So began a determined chase by Ben.”
After he’d caught four of the five rabbits and was struggling to corral the final one, Cote said, Campbell “threw in the towel and headed out.” But not for long.
“This was Ben. He later told his friends he got about a mile down the road, and thinking of that lone rabbit, took a crossover, went back and spent nearly another hour before capturing it and taking the entire clan to a local animal rescue,” the colonel said.
“It is that commitment to being a guardian that brought Ben to the side of I-95 last Wednesday to guard a motorist in danger,” he continued. “Not stopping would never have entered into his mind.”
Tuesday’s ceremony concluded with a final call and traditional fallen trooper’s flag ceremony, before Campbell’s casket was escorted back out of the arena.
“We honor Ben each day by serving others in the way he demonstrated and the way he would expect us to serve,” Cote said. “Ben would demand it.”
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, 32 police officers across the U.S. have died in the line of duty, including seven 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.
The investigation into the accident that killed Campbell is ongoing. The driver of the logging truck has not been charged. Investigators are reviewing the logging truck to determine whether any defects contributed to the incident.