Two Lewiston residents died and two others were injured when the blue Chevrolet Equinox they were riding in north on Route 126 crashed into a beverage truck at the Oak Hill Cash Market in Sabattus. Christopher Williams/Sun Journal

SABATTUS — A car carrying four Lewiston residents to work in Gardiner early Monday morning slammed into a beverage truck unloading at Oak Hill Cash Market, killing the driver and a passenger, and injuring the two other passengers and the driver of the truck.

Somali community members approach the crash scene Monday. All four people in the vehicle were Somali, said Sabattus Police Chief Sheila Wetherbee. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Investigators said they are not sure why the blue Chevrolet Equinox driven by Wabah Sahal Salat, 60, left the road at about 5:45 a.m. and struck the beverage truck, which police say was legally parked with its flashers on while the driver unloaded the truck.

According to Sabattus Police Chief Sheila Wetherbee, Salat and Shariffa Shale Ali, 48, a passenger in the back seat on the passenger side, were both killed in the accident. The other passengers in the car, Sareya Abdi, 38, and Mwavita Echa Kiza, 48, sustained injuries and were taken to Central Maine Medical Center.

Shane Cormier, 33, the driver of the beverage truck, was struck with such force it knocked him over. He was also taken to the hospital. “He had a head injury,” Wetherbee said Monday afternoon. “It wasn’t serious. He’s already been released.”

Wetherbee said workers in the Oak Hill Cash Market didn’t see the crash, but they heard the battery in Salat’s vehicle explode when the collision occurred.

According to a statement released by Sabattus Police Monday, Shawn Ridlon, who owns Oak Hill Cash Market, and Ryan Johnson, who lives nearby, were able to put out the fire and pull one of the survivors from the burning vehicle.

The Sabattus Police say speed and driver distraction are contributing factors in the crash.

The news of the fatal crash prompted the managers of Common Wealth Poultry in Gardiner to close the plant for the day and express sorrow for the workers involved in the accident and their families.

“All the people that we work with, they are basically like family,” said Plant Manager Charlie Ripley. “We work with these guys non-stop, and after a while they just become a part of you, like family. When something happened this morning and we figured it out, it was devastating.”

He added, “We weren’t going to make our guys work after that.”

The company had posted a message on its Facebook page early Monday that three employees had died on their way to work; the message was updated later to say two employees had been killed.

“With a sad heart we inform you that two of our beautiful employees passed away this morning on their way to work. These are without a doubt the hardest words we’ve had to speak here at CWP,” the post stated. “Our hearts are with the families of those who have passed. Everyone here is part of one family, and we are going to spend today remembering the amazing people we love and cherish. Please be safe out there everyone, life is a gift.”

Ripley, who has worked at Common Wealth Poultry since it started about five years ago, said most of the company’s employees are Somali, and many are family members.

“My noon-time shift guy had called me, ” Ripley said. “He was on his way to come here, but he turned around and went to the hospital.”

“I’ve known the crew (in the accident) for three of four years,” Ripley said. “They are just everyday people. They love to joke around and get the job done.”

Ripley said Salat was one of the key sources of keeping the flow going in the plant, and had worked there for three or four years.

“These guys come in and work every day, and they love what they do,” he said. “You walk in here on an average day and they are laughing and talking in their own language. We laugh and joke around all the time.”

The Maine State Police Commercial Vehicle and Traffic Safety units are helping with the investigation and an accident reconstruction is being completed.

Sabattus Police Lt. Dan Davies has asked anyone who saw what happened to call him at 207-375-6952.

— Jessica Lowell of the Kennebec Journal contributed to this report.

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