A Hancock County Sheriff’s deputy was killed early Thursday after he was struck by a motorist while responding to a call on Route 3 in Trenton, between Ellsworth and Mount Desert Island.

Hancock County Sheriff’s Deputy Luke Gross Photo courtesy of Hancock County Sheriff’s Department

Deputy Luke Gross had been sent to check on a vehicle that had gone off the road shortly before 5 a.m. While at the scene and out of his cruiser, Gross was struck by another vehicle. He did not survive his injuries.

Hancock County Sheriff Scott Kane, in an emotional briefing with media members later Thursday, called Gross a “credit to his profession.”

“Luke always had a smile and was a joy to be around. We will miss Luke greatly,” Kane said while reading from prepared remarks. “The world needs more like Luke in law enforcement and in our community.”

Gross was an 18-year veteran of the sheriff’s department and a longtime DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer in local schools as well. He leaves behind his wife of 15 years, Lauren, and two children, a son and a daughter.

Gross started his law enforcement career in Winthrop and Sabattus before joining the sheriff’s department near his hometown of Bucksport. Kane also served on the school board in Hancock, where he lived and where his children attend school.

“Luke had a passion for working with and helping young people. He was at home working in schools and being with kids. He was a role model and was highly respected,” the sheriff said. “He was a big kid himself.”

STATE POLICE INVESTIGATING

No other information was available about the crash, including the driver of the vehicle, but Maine State Police will investigate to determine whether any charges are appropriate.

Gross is the 88th police officer to die in the line of duty in Maine’s history, said Shannon Moss, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety. The most recent death was Detective Benjamin Campbell of the Maine State Police, who died in a freak accident on Interstate 95 in Hampden in 2019 when he was struck by a wheel that came off a logging truck. He was 31.

“The Maine State Police extends our deepest condolences to the Gross family and our friends and colleagues at the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office,” Col. John Cote said in a statement. “We have worked closely with sheriff’s personnel this morning and will continue to provide any and all resources to assist them in the days and weeks ahead as they navigate this difficult time. Maine’s law enforcement family is connected through our common mission, and the loss of any member, regardless of agency, deeply impacts all of us.”

Shon Dixon, front right, and Tim Beales, back right, of Delta Ambulance, stand Thursday on Armstrong Road in Waterville, above Interstate 95, as a police procession carrying the body of Hancock County Sheriff’s Deputy Luke Gross heads to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Augusta. Gross was killed early Thursday while responding to a call in Trenton. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Although the details of the incident have not been disclosed, police agencies in Maine have been doing more to remind motorists about a state law that requires drivers to move over and slow down when approaching stopped emergency vehicles with flashing lights activated. A notice this summer from the Bureau of Highway Safety was preceded by a handful of accidents involving police cruisers that were pulled over. In one instance, a volunteer firefighter in Washington County was hospitalized with serious injuries after he was hit by a car while working with other first responders to put out a vehicle fire.

The Maine State Police gave a demonstration this month on a highway outside Bangor of how motorists are not complying with Maine’s so-called move-over law. At that demonstration, state police said that there have been 38 fatalities in the United States this year involving first responders who were outside their vehicles. Nineteen of those fatalities involved police officers. The law requires motorists to either move over or slow down when they see flashing lights ahead of them, regardless of whether it’s a cruiser or some other type of vehicle, such as a Maine Department of Transportation truck.

MILLS, COLLINS OFFER CONDOLENCES

Gov. Janet Mills released a statement of condolences on Gross’ death Thursday and said she will direct U.S. and Maine flags to be lowered to half-staff on the day of his funeral service.

“Today, we mourn the loss of Deputy Gross, a member of Maine’s law enforcement community killed in the line of duty,” Mills said. “My heart goes out to his friends, family and fellow officers. May we always remember that our law enforcement officers are dedicated public servants who risk their own lives every day to protect the safety of Maine people.

“Deputy Gross ended his watch protecting our great state, and his service and sacrifice will not be forgotten. On behalf of the people of Maine, I extend our condolences to his family, loved ones, and colleagues around the state.”

Sen. Susan Collins also conveyed her condolences in a statement.

“I am heartbroken for the family and friends of Hancock County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Luke Gross, who died in the line of duty today,” Collins said. “Maine will be forever grateful for his service and for all the brave men and women in our state’s law enforcement who put themselves in harm’s way every day to protect our communities.”

Gross’ death hit the Hancock community hard. Hancock Grammar School closed at noon and a school soccer game was canceled Thursday afternoon.

HANCOCK COMMUNITY STUNNED

In a post on its Facebook page, the school notified the community that it will reopen Friday with a crisis support team in place to counsel students and staff.

“We understand that some students may not feel up to coming to school tomorrow. Please call the office to let us know and their absence will be excused,” post said.

Hancock’s School Committee praised Gross and the contributions he made to the community.

“Not only was Luke a husband, father, sheriff deputy, but he was also a valued member of our school committee,” the board said in a statement Thursday evening. “Luke brought a level head, positive attitude and valuable insight and a strong love for his community and the children within it. We are deeply saddened by his passing, his presence will be missed in our community.”

Sen. Louis Luchini, who represents Hancock County, also issued a statement.

“My deepest sympathies and condolences go out to his family, especially his wife and children, his friends, his fellow officers and our whole community,” he said. “His commitment to the people of Hancock County will never be forgotten. Each year, we recognize the Maine law enforcement officers lost in the line of duty at the Memorial Service for fallen officers held at the State Capitol; our hearts will all be heavier this year remembering Deputy Gross.”

Tributes also began flooding social media from police agencies around the state.

Windham Police Officer Ernest W. MacVane III said in a post that he attended the Maine Criminal Justice Academy with Gross more than 20 years ago.

“Devastated to learn of the passing of my academy brother and friend Deputy Luke Gross,” MacVane wrote. “You were awesome my friend. It’s just not fair.”

Many departments also had members participate in a procession as Gross’ body was brought from Hancock County to the state medical examiner’s office in Augusta.

“May you rest in peace Deputy Luke Gross. Your family and friends are in our prayers. We lost another hero today,” the Wells Police Department wrote on its Facebook page.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

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