State police suspended the license of a mechanic alleging that his inadequate inspection of a logging truck contributed to a freak accident that killed a state trooper.
Technician Maurice Gray of Timberland Trucking of Medway gave the logging truck that killed Detective Ben Campbell new inspection stickers 27 days before he was killed by a flying logging-truck wheel on April 3, Col. John E. Cote said.
Campbell, 31, of Millinocket died almost immediately when he was hit by one of two wheels that came off the truck during a snowstorm. Campbell, a state police polygraph examiner, was headed to a training assignment when he stopped to help a motorist, 26-year-old Robert John Anthony of Clifton, who had spun out on Interstate 95 in Hampden.
[Read our interview with Anthony here]
“The tractor and trailer did not receive a full and thorough inspection as required,” Cote said during a press conference at the Bangor barracks on Friday. “The inadequate inspection was not the result of systemic failures at the station but was a failure of the inspection mechanic to properly inspect the truck and tractor.”
Gray’s six-month suspension — the maximum allowed under the law for a first-time offender — was issued the week of the accident, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
Timberland Trucking, which has an excellent more than 20-year record as a state inspection agency, was also issued a warning, Cote said. A man who answered the telephone at Timberland on Friday said that the company and Gray were not commenting.
Investigators also found that a week after Gray’s inspection, the faulty wheels had new tires mounted on them at Bangor Tire Co. 2 in Hermon, apparently without anyone noticing the wheels’ poor condition. The truck’s driver, 52-year-old Scott Willett of Patten, failed to keep adequate maintenance records, Cote said.
State police forwarded the case to Penobscot County District Attorney Marianne Lynch for review on May 13 to determine whether criminal charges are warranted. Gray’s suspension is an administrative action, not a criminal charge, McCausland said.
The case is still under review, Lynch said.
Willett did not return a message, and a representative at Bangor Tire Co. declined to comment.
The bizarre accident shocked state police, who gave the well-liked Campbell a full-dress memorial service in Portland attended by hundreds of police and other emergency responders from around the northeast.
Watch: Detective Ben Campbell’s funeral
Cote stressed that Campbell died despite following his training perfectly. The wheel that killed him came off the truck as it changed from the right to the passing lane to avoid the vehicles on the side of the road, as state law requires.
Campbell was killed by the front right trailer wheel. It just missed the state police SUV that Campbell had parked and pinballed along a guardrail before striking Campbell, who had shielded himself from passing traffic by putting himself between the guardrail and Anthony’s white Nissan Sentra. The other wheel slammed into the Sentra, Cote said.
“Ben was exactly where our training and experience said he should be,” Cote said.
Troopers who inspected the truck at the accident site immediately focused on the axle where the wheels came from. All 10 lug bolts were sheared off at the hub that had held the wheels in place. They found one lug bolt, its lug nut still attached, alongside the highway, Cote said.
The wheels’ hub pilots, which hold the wheels centered on their hubs and help bear the weight of the truck’s load, “were cracked, broken and bent, which allowed the wheels to begin moving [off the hub], resulting in the pilots failing and the lug bolts shearing,” Cote said. “Wheel separation was not a result of loose or missing lug nuts.”
The lug nuts appeared to have been screwed on tight, Cote said.
The flaws in the wheel assembly would have been difficult for Willett to spot unless the wheels were removed, Cote said.
Willett, who pulled over to the side of the road past the accident, and a state trooper, who arrived shortly after the wheel strike, gave CPR to Campbell, Anthony has said.
The Campbell family was briefed on the state police’s findings, McCausland said.
The family will also be briefed on any decision Lynch makes regarding criminal charges before they are announced, she said.
BDN writer Eesha Pendharkar contributed to this report.