The Cape Elizabeth Town Council was told in September about safety concerns at the town’s transfer station, where an SUV struck a former public works director fatally Monday morning.

Herbert Dennison, 79, was throwing his garbage into the trash compactor when he was struck by a Ford Explorer driven by Christine Sharp-Lopez, 72. Police said she was backing up at a high speed, struck Dennison and pushed him into the compactor, which was not turned on at the time.

The accident is still under investigation. Cape Elizabeth Police Chief Neil Williams said a vehicular autopsy will be conducted next week to see if a mechanical failure led to the accident. Once that’s complete, a report will be sent to the Cumberland County district attorney, who will determine whether any charges should be filed.

In September, the council was asked to conduct a comprehensive review of the transfer station to address capital needs, such as replacing the 38-year-old hopper, and safety issues related to a high volume of vehicular and pedestrian traffic, Public Works Director Robert Malley said.

Malley said the facility is designed for vehicles to back up to the hopper and deposit their trash. However, some people don’t like to wait in line, so they walk their trash bags into the facility while vehicles come and go. Some vehicles back up to the hopper and others drive in forward.

“These vehicle and pedestrian movements that are happening in this area, they’re just not safe,” Malley said. “It’s been going on for several years.”

Town Council Chairwoman Jessica Sullivan said she too has noticed an increase in foot traffic near the compactor.

“That is something I have been concerned about recently,” she said. “I’m sure we’re going to look at that.”

Sullivan said the council made it a goal to conduct the review in 2015, mainly because of the expense involved in replacing the hopper.

Malley said the transfer station’s layout hasn’t changed significantly since it was built in the mid-1970s, although some recycling containers were added in the 1990s. A comprehensive review could lead to improvements to the existing drop-off facility, or a curbside trash collection program, he said.

Town Manager Michael McGovern was on vacation this week but has been receiving regular updates about the accident and investigation, according to Tax Assessor Matthew Sturgis, who is fielding calls about the accident.

Sturgis said the town regularly reviews safety concerns, and the transfer station will be “a live discussion, especially in light of recent events.”

“It increases the intensity of the discussion that needs to take place,” he said.

The force of the SUV that backed into Dennison was strong enough to push him through a latched chain-link fence intended to keep people from falling into the hopper, according to Malley. There is also a low steel bar to prevent vehicles from backing into the hopper, he said.

The transfer station, which is closed on Tuesdays, reopened Wednesday with the fence repaired, Malley said.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is not investigating the accident, because it occurred on municipal property, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Maine Department of Labor.

Although the Department of Labor typically investigates accidents only if they involve employees, spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said the department also conducts random inspections and complaint-based investigations. The results of the most recent inspection of the Cape Elizabeth site were not available immediately because a snowstorm had forced the closure of state offices Wednesday afternoon and Thursday was a holiday.

Rabinowitz said because of confidentiality rules she could not comment on whether a complaint-based investigation was taking place.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.