HANOVER — The start of the three-day, 180-mile Trek Across Maine was marred by a fatal crash.
State police on Friday were investigating the death of a cyclist on Route 2 about 10 miles from the starting point. Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland says a cyclist was killed when he was struck by a tractor-trailer on Main Street.
The victim was identified as David LeClair, 23, of Watertown, Mass.
McCausland said LeClair was riding with his employer's team, athenahealth of Watertown, Mass., as part of the Trek Across Maine when he apparently was struck by the rear portion of a tractor-trailer as it passed the bicyclist around 8:45 a.m. LeClair was killed instantly.
Friends he was riding with stopped to render assistance and called police with a description of the truck, which did not stop. Maine State Police stopped a truck of a similar description in Rumford a short time later, McCausland said.
State police Lt. Walter Grzyb said police are asking anyone who may have seen the accident or bicyclists who inadvertently filmed it, to contact them at 800-228-0857.
"We think there are probably people that saw what happened, but we haven't identified whether it would be somebody in a motor vehicle or somebody on a bicycle," Grzyb said. "And if they saw this accident occur, they could give us a call so we can talk with them. We're looking for eyewitnesses."
He added, "A lot of the cyclists now have Go Pro video cameras. If anybody has a GoPro video, that would be great. It'd be great for us; it would be horrible for them."
The athenahealth team had more than 100 riders participating in the event. It has an office in Belfast, the final stop on the three-day trek.
"He was loved by all, known to be incredibly social," company spokeswoman Holly Spring said. "He loved the outdoors and was a friend beyond just a co-worker."
According to the message posted on his Trek Across Maine profile page, LeClair had participated in the event in the past.
"Growing faster than almost any other major illness, lung disease — which includes lung cancer, asthma and emphysema — is the third leading cause of death in the United States. As someone who lives with environmental-induced asthma, this is personal for me," he posted.
LeClair's profile indicated that he had raised $1,000 for the trek, exceding his goal of $500.
Despite the tragedy, the event will continue.
"It is with deepest sadness that the American Lung Association of the Northeast reports the passing of a member of our trek family at our annual Trek Across Maine today," Jeff Seyler, President and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast, said in a statement.
"All of us at the American Lung Association express our profound sadness at this tragic loss of life and offer our deepest condolences to the family," Seyler added. "With heavy hearts, the trek is continuing."
Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Bush of athenahealth issued a statement Friday afternoon: “Sadness has hit us today in the closest way it can," he said. "David LeClair, an athenista for 2½ years, was known to all as a shining light. He was a high-energy leader, known for his kindness and love of the outdoors.
"He ran what is called the 'sunshine fund’ at athenahealth to ensure no birthday went uncelebrated, he was a front-man with clients, a true content expert on many of the intricacies of health care, and the first man to propose a game of Frisbee on athenahealth's campus once spring came. There are no explanations that can soften this news. David will be missed.”
At the trek's first rest stop late Friday morning, two of LeClair's teammates, who were wearing purple jerseys, were grim-faced. One declined to comment about their teammate before joining the other and pedaling off to Canton to resume the trek.
More than 2,000 bicyclists left Sunday River ski resort on Friday to start the three-day event that ends Sunday in Belfast. The ride is a fundraiser for the American Lung Association.
Last year's event raised $1.8 million.
By 2:15 p.m. Friday, Grzyb and several troopers, Oxford County Deputy Sheriff Michael Halacy and Rumford police Sgt. Tracey Higley were examining the rear tires of a 2006 Kenworth tractor-trailer.
The 22-wheeler hauling corn feed from Colebrook, N.H., to Augusta, was parked in the Marden's parking lot in Rumford. That's where state police troopers pulled it over, 9 miles from the accident scene.
Trooper Jeff DeGroot of the Maine State Police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division was inspecting the truck, which is owned by Transport Beauregard of St. Jacques Le Mineur, Quebec, Canada.
After DeGroot weighed and inspected the tractor-trailer and state police detectives lifted evidence from the outer rear tire using tape, Grzyb said they were impounding the rig.
"We believe this could be the truck that's involved," Grzyb said. "We've got a little bit of work to go and make that definitive. There's a pretty good possibility that this is the truck."
Greeley's of Auburn hauled the 100,000-pound tractor-trailer to Auburn, while DeGroot took the young truck driver to a Rumford health clinic for testing for the trucking company per federal law.
Grzyb declined to identify the truck driver because they hadn't charged him with anything.
"The truck driver was very cooperative," Grzyb said. "His truck was inspected and all of his log books were inspected. Everything seems to be in order. We don't see any violations."
Grzyb said they will do a full investigation and review it with the district attorney's office to determine if any charges will be brought.
He said LeClair's team left Sunday River in Newry, riding in a group. "And as the truck passed, something occurred and (LeClair) was struck and killed," Grzyb said.
"We've talked to a number of people and everyone said the same thing: There's a breakdown lane that's 8 feet wide, there's a white line and then there's a travel lane," he said. "Everything we've seen is that (LeClair) was in the breakdown lane on his side of the white line and the truck was in the travel lane on his side of the white line. The law requires that they give 3 feet when vehicles pass bicyclists. We're going to have to determine that if we can. It may or may not be possible."
Grzyb said the accident occurred as the truck driver and the cyclists were heading down a straightaway into a curve between the Mill Hill Road intersection and Gordie Howe's Store.
The speed limit drops from 55 mph to 40 mph through there and the travel lane shortens in width. Additionally, the breakdown lane tilts toward the guardrail.
"So you're coming into the village and the travel lane tightens up and we don't know if there were cars coming from the other direction," Grzyb said.
He said investigators hadn't yet determined the truck's speed.
Oftentimes when tractor-trailers are traveling beside bicyclists and cars, they create a draft or suction that temporarily pulls vehicles and bicycle riders toward the wheels, Grzyb said.
"That's something that very well could have happened," he said. "You know, if (LeClair) was close to the edge (of the white line) and the truck was close, that is certainly one of the things that a couple of the witnesses mentioned, that there was some sort of draft that pulled him into the truck."
LeClair's black and white bicycle was taken to the truck inspection scene where it showed no damage.
"You can see an indication (on the bike) where he had fallen over and skidded, but the bike was not damaged. It was not hit by the truck," Grzyb said. LeClair's trek number, 1945, was still attached to the bike.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.