Well-known Unity winemaker killed when lawnmower, SUV collide

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Orange traffic cones stand at the end of the driveway to Younity Winery and the Clement Blakney home Thursday, indicating the business is closed. Blakney died Thursday, a day after he was struck by an SUV while crossing the road in front of his home on a lawnmower, police said. (Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel)

A business owner and former Unity selectman died Thursday morning from injuries suffered Wednesday when a vehicle struck the lawnmower he was riding with his 5-year-old granddaughter in front of his home on Albion Road, according to Waldo County Sheriff Jeff Trafton.

Newly elected Unity Selectman Clement Blakney, right, and Town Clerk Susan Lombard read along as moderator Don Newell calls for a vote at a town meeting in March 2012. Blakney died Thursday from injuries suffered when he was struck by an SUV while driving his lawnmower across the road in front of his home. (Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald file photo)

Clement Blakney, 66, of 317 Albion Road, which is Routes 202 and 9, crossing the road when a Nissan SUV driven north by Nicole Ellis, 46, of Fairfield hit the lawnmower, Trafton said Thursday.

Blakney and his wife, Jeri, own Younity Winery & Vineyards Inc., a business that opened in 2009 and is visible from Albion Road. Clement Blakney also was a former town selectman.

Jackie Reny of Vassalboro, a longtime friend of the Blakneys, said Thursday she was shocked to learn of his death.

“He was a kind, charismatic, thoughtful guy, community supportive, a great friend, very generous” she said.

Reny and her husband, Peter, are members of the Vassalboro Business Association. She said Blakney helped the association raise money to help students from Vassalboro attend college by hosting a wine tasting at The Olde Mill on Main Street in that town.

“He will be dearly missed,” she said.

The accident was reported at 4:27 p.m. Wednesday, according to Trafton. Blakney was taken by Unity Volunteer Ambulance Corp. to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and died sometime before 3:34 a.m. Thursday, he said.

He said Clement suffered multiple injuries in the crash, including a severe head wound.

His granddaughter was taken to a Waterville hospital. A sheriff’s sergeant who went to the hospital Wednesday evening reported she had injuries that were not life-threatening, he said.

Ellis also was taken by Unity Ambulance to a Waterville hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening, he said.

Trafton, who went to the crash scene, said it was his understanding Clement’s granddaughter was in his lap when the accident occurred.

He described the lawnmower as one steered with levers, instead of a steering wheel.

No charges had been filed as of Thursday.

“Initially there was no indication of any wrongdoing,” Trafton said.

He said state police began reconstructing the crash Wednesday night, but darkness fell before the task was completed, so they planned to return Thursday morning with a drone and map the scene to finish the reconstruction effort.

Connie Bellet and Phil White Hawk of Palermo, good friends of the Blakneys, were grieving Thursday afternoon over the loss, describing the Blakneys as loving, hardworking people.

“We knew him very, very well,” White Hawk said. “When I heard about his demise, it was just like a physical blow. I’m still dealing with it. Clem was an extremely creative person. He was a generous person and giving of himself to other people. He was innovative, an extreme computer wizard, and Connie and I worked with him for years when he first came to Unity. We helped him plant the grapes for the vineyard. There were thousands of grapes that we planted and they were just little, bitty twigs. It was marvelous over the years to see them grow and see Clem prosper.”

Bellet helped design the labels for the winery products and had designed another one recently that Clem Blakney never got the chance to see, she said.

“The thing I miss most about Clem is his sense of humor,” she said. “He was just a bright light shining from Unity. He was a very dear friend. He was a punster; he liked word games and things like that. He just had a delightful radiance about him. It was just so wonderful to be in his presence, tramping around in his bare feet in his vineyard, rain or shine, taking care of his grapes, Jeri beside him. He would have parties, sometimes with fireworks, in his backyard. He wanted to make life a fun thing for people.”

On Thursday, vehicles rushed along Albion Road in front of Younity Winery and the Blakney home, where orange traffic cones had been set up at the end of the driveway, indicating the business was closed.

A man across the road at TA’s Automotive Sales and Service said he was there Wednesday when the accident occurred, but he declined to comment, other than to say the Blakneys are nice people.

The accident occurred 4 miles from the Albion town line.

 

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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