The driver had a suspended license, according to police.

SOUTH PORTLAND (AP) – The woman police suspect was driving a rented SUV at speeds faster than 90 mph when it clipped a car and veered out of control, killing seven people inside, had a suspended driver’s license, authorities said.

Hope Gagnon, 29, lost her license in 1998 after failing to pay a fine, said Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety and had not completed the paperwork to have it reinstated.

Three adults and four children, all younger than 9, were killed in the Mother’s Day accident on Interstate 95 when the 2004 Ford Explorer went airborne, slammed into trees in the median of I-95 and landed on its roof.

State troopers on Monday struggled to determine where the group was going.

Investigators found McDonald’s wrappers and Happy Meal boxes in the vehicle, which came to rest upside down. Two bodies were crushed under the wreckage. Another child’s body was found in hanging in a tree.

“A lot of work still needs to be done as to retracing their footsteps and trying to determine what happened and why,” McCausland said.

The accident happened Sunday about 10 miles west of Bangor in south-central Maine.

The victims, all from South Portland, were identified as Kelley Armstrong, 28, and her 4-year-old son Kristian; Hope Gagnon, 29, and her three children Deion 8, Tkeyah 6, and Ariana 4; and Danielle St. Paulin, 29.

Troopers believe Gagnon was driving because witnesses reported seeing her change places with one of the other women in the breakdown lane about two miles before the crash site, said State Police Lt. Wesley Hussey in Orono.

Witnesses reportedly saw the SUV moving fast as it approached two cars, one in the travel lane and one in the passing lane, Hussey said. The SUV spun sideways before going airborne and coming to a rest on its roof.

Gagnon and Armstrong were in the SUV’s front seat when it crashed, and both were thrown from the vehicle. A nurse responding to the accident found 4-year-old Ariana hanging in a nearby tree, Hussey said.

Investigators planned to examine the remains of the vehicle Tuesday to see if a mechanical malfunction may have contributed to the accident.

Officials at Small Elementary School in South Portland, which two of the four children attended, received word before school began. The school remained open Monday night for grieving parents and students.

“It’s just so tragic,” said Connie Palys, a counselor working during the session. “One of the fifth-graders said, They didn’t even get to come to the fifth grade.”‘

The crash was the deadliest on a Maine public road since seven occupants of a car were killed when it was broadsided and run over by a tractor-trailer in Richmond on Sept. 5, 1958.

The state’s worst crash ever occurred on a privately owned logging road on Sept. 12, 2002, when 14 migrant workers perished when their van went off a bridge in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.

AP-ES-05-10-04 1913EDT



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