The driver of a car involved in a double fatal accident in Vassalboro early Saturday was a habitual motor vehicle offender who was driving without a valid driver’s license, Winslow’s police chief said Saturday afternoon.

Police also suspect the driver was impaired in the 1 a.m. crash.

The driver, Ronald Willey, 32, of Chelsea, and his passenger, Joseph Knox, 28, of Randolph, were killed instantly when the car they were in hit a tree on Bog Road in Vassalboro following a high-speed chase by a Winslow police officer.

The car, a 2004 Dodge Stratus, slammed broadside into the tree on Bog Road. The crash took place on a sharp curve at the crest of a hill.

Firefighters had to use extrication equipment to remove the two bodies.

Winslow Police Chief Shawn O’Leary said police Sgt. Haley Fleming tried to stop Willey’s car on Bay Street because it had a defective tail light.

“When he turned his lights on, the vehicle turned into the Cumberland Farms convenience store’s parking lot on the Augusta Road. Sgt. Fleming believed that the individual was going to pull over so he could initiate the traffic stop,” O’Leary said. “At that time, the vehicle sped through the parking lot, driving over the steps that go into the store.”

Fleming activated his lights and siren as the vehicle turned onto Cushman Road “at a good rate of speed,” O’Leary said. He said the car was “all over the road.”

“Sgt. Fleming felt it was an operator that was impaired,” he said.

Kennebec County sheriff’s deputies and Maine State Police were called for assistance.

Fleming told state troopers the speeds during the chase ranged from 65 to 80 mph, according to a news release from the state police. The Winslow sergeant did not witness the crash, but came upon the wreck moments after it had occurred.

“Sgt. Fleming lost sight of the vehicle and felt he had lost the vehicle, and turned around to find the car had slammed into the side of a tree at a high rate of speed,” O’Leary said. “It was a very high-impact crash.”

Both men were pronounced dead at the scene.

Maine State Police are conducting the crash investigation. A team of eight troopers went to the crash site, along with the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office and the Vassalboro Fire Department.

State police are reconstructing the crash and performing tests that will include routine blood-alcohol testing on the driver and the passenger, O’Leary said.

Asked whether Winslow police have a policy on procedures in a police chase, O’Leary said in an email response only that Flemming had “followed all policies” in the incident.

State police spokesman Stephen McCausland said state law requires every police department to have its own written policy on high-speed chases, but that he didn’t know what the policy in Winslow is. According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, many police departments nationwide have adopted policies that prohibit officers from engaging in high-speed chases unless the motorists attempting to flee are suspected of serious crimes.

McCausland also said it is not unusual for state police to investigate fatal crashes involving local police departments.

“Most times, local departments, when there’s a pursuit and a fatality, will call on another department to investigate,” McCausland said.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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