HANOVER — Hundreds of bicyclists who began the annual Trek Across Maine on Friday were shocked by the death of a rider who apparently fell and was run over by a tractor-trailer just a few miles from the starting point.
David LeClair, 23, of Watertown, Mass., was killed almost instantly about 8:45 a.m. as the truck passed him on Route 2 in the Oxford County town of Hanover, said Maine State Police.
News of the accident spread as cyclists arrived Friday afternoon at their overnight stop at the University of Maine at Farmington. Some expressed surprise that it could happen on such a well-marked route traveled by so many cyclists in the fundraiser for the American Lung Association.
Riders said law enforcement, volunteers and clear signs are positioned along the 180-mile route throughout the three-day ride, warning drivers to watch for cyclists.
Terri Brown, 23, a first-time participant from Brunswick, was surprised by the accident, considering the enormous effort of organizers to direct traffic around the riders.
“There are so many volunteers and cops out there. You can’t not know to drive slow and watch out, because there are like thousands of bikers out there,” she said.
John Harris, 73, of South Bristol said drivers have always been willing to share the road and brake for riders in the 10 years he has ridden in the trek, which draws about 2,000 cyclists and this year has raised $1.35 million.
He said people guide vehicles around the participants at all major intersections. “I’ve never felt threatened by a car.”
The 29th annual trek began Friday morning with riders leaving from the Sunday River ski resort, bound for the overnight layover in Farmington, a 53-mile ride away. The ride ends Sunday in Belfast.
Officers said the truck and the cyclists were going east when the accident occurred. LeClair may have fallen off the bike before he was killed, although it’s not yet clear what might have caused him to fall.
His death is this year’s first bicycle fatality in Maine, according to law enforcement.
Police stopped a truck miles away in Rumford that they believe was involved, said state police Lt. Walter Grzyb. The name of the driver was not released Friday. A man who climbed down from the cab declined to be interviewed.
The tractor-trailer is owned by Transport Beauregard Inc., based in Quebec. Serge Beauregard, who operates the Canadian transport company, did not return a call requesting information about the driver’s experience, safety record or length of service.
“Part of this investigation is to look closely at his driving log and hours of operation, making sure he’s in compliance and making sure his truck is safe,” Grzyb said. “We believe we have the truck. We’re going to have to do some additional investigation to confirm this is the truck.”
Investigators are examining whether the wind generated by the passing truck upset LeClair’s bicycle, which apparently was undamaged.
Truck drivers must comply with federal rules that govern how many hours they are allowed to drive without sleep.
Grzyb said the driver told police he was not aware that an accident had happened, which Grzyb said is common when large trucks are involved in such accidents.
Police are asking for riders’ help in gathering any video footage that may have captured the accident. Route 2, a major route connecting western Maine with New Hampshire and points east, is traveled by many commercial vehicles.
LeClair was riding as part of a 140-member team of employees of athenahealth. A 2011 graduate of Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., he was originally from Naples, Fla., and worked at athenahealth for two years.
He helped doctors and their practices better interact and communicate with insurance companies, said Holly Spring, an athenahealth spokeswoman. His family could not be located for comment.
Spring said the company has counselors at its office in Watertown to help LeClair’s co-workers with the loss, and is sending counselors to Maine to assist the company’s riders.
“We’re all pretty sad here,” Spring said. “We’re going to do everything we can to celebrate David’s life and support our employees.”
Spring said athenahealth operates an office in Belfast, employing 600 people. An additional 1,000 people work at the Watertown headquarters.
Bob Moulton, whose home is across from the scene of the accident, said his adult son was watching a group of about 12 riders pass the house and saw the truck, but looked away a few seconds before the accident.
“(My son) turned away and that’s when the screaming started,” Moulton said.
He ran out of the house and saw a chaotic scene at the road’s edge, where LeClair’s body lay on the white line separating the breakdown lane and the travel lane.
Grzyb said witnesses said LeClair was riding abreast with another cyclist, with LeClair on the left, closest to the travel lane. Police are trying to determine whether oncoming traffic may have affected how close the truck came to the shoulder.
Nancy Grant, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, who is riding in the trek, said organizers mark the route and intersections, station volunteers in helpful places along the way, and provide signs in areas that require extra attention or safety measures. Grant said she is on a team of 30 riders who are designated to act as a safety patrol.
“The trek does a really good job trying to ensure everyone’s safe,” Grant said.
Jeff Seyler, CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast, sponsor of the event, issued a statement saying it will continue.
“It is with deepest sadness that the American Lung Association of the Northeast reports the passing of a member of our Trek family at our annual Trek Across Maine today,” Seyler said in the release.
“All of us at the American Lung Association express our profound sadness at this tragic loss of life and offer our deepest condolences to the family. With heavy hearts, the trek is continuing.”
— Staff Writer David Hench and Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Kaitlin Schroeder contributed to this report.
Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at: