Karen Nightingale and her husband of less than two months were preparing to make a new life in a new home.

They were headed to that house July 6 when Nightingale’s motorcycle hit a pothole on Western Avenue in Augusta. The impact overturned the bike and threw her to the ground.

“She never regained consciousness,” Jared Nightingale, her husband of 54 days, said Wednesday.

Karen Nightingale, formerly O’Donnell, of Gardiner, died Tuesday at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. She was 53.

“She was probably the most forgiving woman I’ve ever met,” Jared Nightingale said.

She worked in law enforcement in northern Kennebec County for more than 20 years before taking a job last year as a Department of Health and Human Services investigator, and was recalled Wednesday as a dedicated cop, caring mother and a trustworthy friend.

“You could fill a whole newspaper about Karen and not cover everything,” said her friend Shanna Blodgett, who served with her on the Fairfield Police Department. “She was a great person.”

The July 6 accident happened as the Nightingales — Karen on the Harley-Davidson Jared had bought for her — rode east on Western Avenue with two friends, on their way to see the house the couple planned to close on four days later. As the group entered the road construction site near Woodside Road, Jared Nightingale saw a bike overturn out of the corner of his eye.

His wife was flown to CMMC. Although wearing a helmet, she had suffered significant head injuries.

He said his wife’s heart stopped immediately following the accident, but two medical professionals happened upon the scene and performed CPR. Nightingale hoped that his wife had been through the worst.

“We had a lot of hope of a recovery,” he said.

‘SHE GOT ALONG WITH FOLKS’

Karen Nightingale worked for the U.S. Border Patrol in Houlton before moving her family back to central Maine. She was hired as a dispatcher for the Waterville Police Department in 1993 and was so good at her job that Chief Joseph Massey, who was deputy chief at the time, believed she deserved an opportunity to fill a vacant patrol officer’s position. Nightingale completed the police academy and went on the night shift. She had switched to days before leaving to take a job as a detective with the Skowhegan Police Department.

“She was a good patrol officer,” Massey said. “She got along with folks. She fit in and did a good job.”

Nightingale was recruited to be a security agent at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

He said she was there when a bomb in a backpack went off, killing one person and injuring more than 100.

Nightingale joined the Fairfield Police Department in 2002 and was assigned as a resource officer at Lawrence High School. She held the position until leaving last year.

“It seemed as though Karen always knew about the individual student and their current situation to know whether to be the tough cop or the compassionate, caring police officer,” said Principal Mark Campbell. “She didn’t always have a message the students or parents wanted to hear, but it was always a message with the best interest of the student in mind.”

Nightingale’s son, Michael Pomerleau, said she was skilled at reading people, particularly teenagers. Pomerleau said he learned that firsthand growing up with her.

“I didn’t get away with much,” he said, chuckling at the thought. “She knew the tricks of the trade.”

Blodgett said students trusted Nightingale and felt they could confide in her.

“She did her job, but she didn’t talk down to the kids,” Blodgett said. “The kids felt comfortable with her. They called her OD. She just had a knack for it.”

Blodgett, too, found comfort in confiding with a friend and fellow police officer.

“Being a female officer is not always easy,” Blodgett said. “She was always very helpful.”

Nightingale, a Christian, always believed things would work out for the best. “She always had a positive attitude regardless of what was going on in her life,” Blodgett said. “She kept her faith.”

The Nightingales were married May 23 at First Baptist Church of Hallowell, which they attended regularly.

“We both love the church,” he said.

Jared and Karen Nightingale met at a meeting a few years ago and had their first date on Oct. 31, 2010. Jared still keeps a card to remember the occasion. He was struck by her kindness for others.

“She loved giving gifts to other people without them knowing,” he said.

As good as she was as a police officer, Pomerleau said Nightingale was even better as a mother to him and his sister, Sarah Vitello. Nightingale also had four young grandchildren.

“She was a fantastic mom,” Pomerleau said. “She took care of her kids. Her kids and her grandkids were her life.”

PART OF THE POLICE FAMILY

Her husband has a photo taken by police of the pothole that claimed his wife’s life.

The pothole, which measured 24 inches in length, 14 inches in width and more than five inches deep, is believed to have opened up during a rain storm. Despite its size, he said he and his friend drove past the hole without seeing it.

“They took pictures from a distance and you really wouldn’t notice the hole until you were on it,” Nightingale said.

The road construction, which started about a year ago, has left a patchwork of new tar and, at times, gravel, as crews move both above and below ground utilities.

Despite the disruption, Project Manager Shawn Smith of the Maine Department of Transportation said the project has generated relatively few complaints from the roughly 23,000 commuters who drive the road ever day.

The project is slated to be completed this fall, but a delay in utility work might push that back.

“The work has made some portions of the road better and some worse,” Smith said. “That’s just the nature of construction.”

Jared Nightingale spent Wednesday making and answering calls on four telephones.

A public memorial service is planned for 4:00 p.m. Saturday in the Williamson Auditorium at Lawrence High School in Fairfield. The funeral service is scheduled for 2:00pm Monday at First Baptist Church of Hallowell.

Nightingale found it difficult to write his wife’s obituary. Where does one even begin to describe such a woman? he wondered.

“It’s amazing how much you can write about somebody,” he said.

News of Nightingale’s death was making its way through the law enforcement community Wednesday. Massey said his department was saddened by the news and offered condolences to the family.

“As a police officer we always refer to everyone as part of the police family,” Massey said. “She certainly was that and she’s going to be missed.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4


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