GARDINER — The man behind the wheel of a Budget rental van that crashed Saturday morning on an icy Brunswick Avenue — killing him and his grandson — was not legally allowed to drive.
In fact, only one of the three men in the van was licensed to drive at the time of the crash. The men were reportedly making deliveries for a local rental company.
The driver, Dennis Kay, 62, of Gardiner, and his grandson, 25-year-old Carlton Norwood, of Pittston, were killed in the accident. A third man, Thomas Bourque, 29, of Randolph, was taken by ambulance to MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta where he was treated for non life-threatening injuries.
Norwood’s mother, Charlene Henderson of Pittston, said shortly after the crash that the three men were couriers for Budget rental and that they were traveling from a rental business in Farmingdale to Windham, where they were expected to pick up Budget trucks and drive them back to Farmingdale.
But, according to the secretary of state’s office, both Kay and Bourque had suspended driver’s licenses and were unable to legally drive a vehicle on any Maine road. Norwood’s license, according to state records, was active.
Alice Pereira, spokeswoman for Budget rental in Parsippany, N.J., said Thursday that Kay, Norwood and Bourque were not employed by Budget, but were employees of Option Rentals on 715 Maine Ave. in Farmingdale. Pereira described Option Rentals as a third-party vendor contracted by Budget.
“This really isn’t our issue,” Pereira said.
Option Rentals owner Doug Wiggins did not return a call seeking comment and was not at the business when a reporter arrived early Thursday afternoon.
The crash occurred around 8 a.m. Saturday as the men were driving the Ford three-quarter-ton cargo van south on Brunswick Avenue toward Interstate 295. Freezing rain had left a thin coat of ice on the road, which caused the van to skid out of control, roll over and land in a ditch on its side.
“It was a fast freeze that morning,” said Gardiner Police Chief James Toman. “They were probably going the posted speed limit, but under the icy conditions of that morning, we believe that was too fast.”
Kay and Norwood were riding in front and both were partially ejected, initially making it difficult for police to determine who had been driving. Toman said police now believe Kay was the driver.
Police believe neither Norwood nor Kay was wearing a seat belt. Bourque, Norwood’s cousin, was riding in the back of the van, where there were no permanently affixed seats, Toman said.
Toman would not say if police have interviewed Wiggins, the Option Rentals owner, but he said the investigation may eventually include state agencies.
“We will follow the avenues the investigation takes us on,” Toman said.
Maine State Police Sgt. Shawn Currie, who patrols with the department’s commercial vehicles unit, said neither state nor federal law require companies to verify an employee’s driving status unless the job requires a commercial driver’s license.
A commercial license is only required if the employee is driving a vehicle weighing more than 26,001 pounds or carrying hazardous material, Currie said. A commercial license is not required to drive a van such as the Budget rental one unless it is carrying hazardous material.
Kay and Bourque’s driving records show several driving-related convictions, one of which occurred as recently as September when Kay was ordered to pay a $250 fine for operating after license suspension.
According to published reports, Bourque was sentenced in May 2008 to four years in jail with all but 18 months suspended after he was convicted in Kennebec County Superior Court of assault on an officer, failure to stop for an officer, criminal operating under the influence and driving to endanger.
Bourque, who also was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and nearly $2,800 in restitution, reportedly hit a Maine State Trooper with his car while trying to flee police who had responded to a report of a fight. The trooper was not hurt.
Bourque was also fined $250 for a 2007 conviction of operating after suspension. That same year, he was sentenced to 12 hours in jail for unlawful use of a driver’s license.
Currie said drivers whose license privileges are suspended are supposed to mail the license back to the state, but not everyone does. That means even when employees seeking a driving-related job are able to produce a license, there is no guarantee the license is valid.
Unless the job requires a commercial license, it’s up to individual companies to decide whether or not verify the license status, Currie said.
“If it was my company I probably would because they are driving around in my stuff,” Currie said.
Craig Crosby — 621-5642