UPDATE: Questions remain in fatal Durham crash 

Editor’s note: On Oct. 13, 2016, the Maine State Police investigation concluded that the pickup truck was driven by Brandon Harthorne. Jeremy Reardon was seated in the front passenger seat, and Malakai Cawood was a backseat passenger. Reardon was not driving the vehicle. The cause of the crash was attributed to human error.

DURHAM — Kneeling on Route 9 on Wednesday morning, James Merrill begged 21-year-old Malakai Cawood to stay awake until an ambulance arrived.

“He was looking at me. I kept telling him, ‘Hold on man,’” Merrill said. “He was in really bad shape.”

As they waited, Cawood said to Merrill, “Please, tell my family that I love them.”

Then, he closed his eyes and died.               


Cawood, who lived in Limington and was a recent graduate of the Adult Education program in Gorham, was one of two passengers killed in an accident at the intersection of Route 9 and Runaround Pond Road. The other passenger was 24-year-old Brendon Harthorn of Cornish.

Merrill, a 28-year-old who recently relocated from New Hampshire to Maine with his girlfriend, was getting ready for work around 7:15 a.m. when he heard a loud crash just down the road. He jumped in his car and drove to the intersection, where he saw two people lying in the road near a pickup truck on fire. There was an overturned dump truck some yards farther south on Route 9.

“I knew it was bad and I knew my uncle was on the porch, so I yelled ‘Uncle Bob, Uncle Bob,’” Merrill said. “I needed help.”

As he waited for his uncle, Merrill said he tried to move the two men in the road away from the burning truck, but they were too heavy.

When the older Merrill arrived at the scene, a third man who was driving by stopped to help, and the three managed to move the injured men. Then, the younger Merrill said, “we realized the driver was still in the truck.”

As the three men started working to get the driver out of the truck, the younger Merrill said he “got talking to him and asked him what happened. He told me that he blew the stop sign.”


The driver is Jeremy Reardon, 35, of Buxton.

Reardon initially didn’t want to leave the vehicle, James Merrill said. “He wouldn’t let me move him. But, I said, ‘Dude, we got to move you. This thing’s on fire and we gotta go.’”

Merrill said “there was literally no choice. It was either move him or he dies.”

The three rescuers worked together to get the driver out of the truck and set him on the ground, but as the flames grew, Merrill said they had to move him despite very serious injuries to his left hip and leg. “We dragged him on his back,” Merrill said, “and had to move him two or three times because the truck got progressively worse.”

“The truck was on fire so bad, if we hadn’t gotten him out in time there would have been three dead bodies” there, Merrill said.

They also moved the two passengers in the road several more times to get them farther from the flames.


“No sooner did we pull him out, and got together to pull the other gentlemen away from the truck and it blew up,” Merrill said.

“It was a very scary situation,” he said.

Merrill said Harthorn was dead when he got there, but Cawood was still alive and he sat with the man until he died.

Later in the day, Merrill said, “All I can do is see that guy’s face. Hearing him say ‘Please tell my family I love them.’”

Merrill said he doesn’t know how to get in touch with the man’s family, but he thinks it’s important for them to know “that your son was thinking about you before he died and wanted you to know that he loved you.”

The Merrills and the passer-by also helped Clifton Larrabee of Durham, who was driving one of his company’s dump trucks south on Route 9 when it was struck by Reardon’s pickup.


Larrabee was still trapped in the overturned truck when the three rescuers reached him. One of them kicked in the window to reach him, but they decided not to move him from the truck because they didn’t know how badly he was injured.

“So, we figured we’d just tell him to hold on and we talked to him to keep him calm,” Merrill said, assuring him an ambulance had been called.

Merrill recently moved to Maine to find employment, and started work for Dunham’s Tree Service in Lewiston on Tuesday. When EMTs arrived at the crash scene, he left so he wouldn’t be late for work.

At some point during the rescue, Merrill said he pulled something in his leg and he was visibly limping later in the day.

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