Maine State Police say the Hancock County Sheriff’s deputy who died Thursday was struck from behind by a pickup truck as he picked up crash debris from Route 3 in Trenton.

Deputy Luke Gross, 44, was the 88th police officer to die in the line of duty in Maine history and the first since 2019.

Gross responded to a crash near the Ellsworth town line about 4:30 a.m. Thursday. The driver of that vehicle had fled before Gross arrived, said Shannon Moss, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

Gross parked his cruiser in the westbound breakdown lane with his emergency lights activated, Moss said. He got out of his car wearing a highly visible traffic vest and was picking up debris from the road when he was hit from behind by a small pickup truck at about 5:15 a.m., she said.

The driver of the truck has fully cooperated with the investigation, and no charges are expected to be filed at this time, according to Moss. Police did not release the driver’s name or hometown.

The driver of the crashed vehicle who had fled before Gross arrived was found a short distance away later Thursday morning, police said. Thorin Smith, 20, of Bar Harbor was found by state police sleeping in the same car he had crashed earlier. He was charged with leaving the scene of an accident, illegal use of drug paraphernalia and illegal possession of alcohol by a minor.

“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Deputy Gross and the men and women of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office as they navigate this unexpected and difficult loss,” Moss said in a statement.

Deputy Luke Gross

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. Hancock County Sheriff Scott Kane described Gross as a “credit to his profession.”

“Luke always had a smile and was a joy to be around. We will miss Luke greatly,” Kane said during an emotional news conference on Thursday. “The world needs more like Luke in law enforcement and in our community.”

Gross 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,” Kane said. “He was a big kid himself.”

His death hit the Hancock community hard. Schools closed early Thursday, games were canceled and school officials said students who did not feel up to attending school Friday would be excused. Crisis teams were brought into schools Friday.

The Hancock 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.”

Before the crash, police agencies in Maine had 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. 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.

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 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.

In one recent incident, 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.

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