Firefighters and police work at the scene of a crash that killed four people Saturday on Route 4 in Berwick.

Eight people have died in traffic crashes in Maine in the last week, a tragic beginning to summer months that are traditionally the busiest, and deadliest, time of the year on the state’s roadways.

The spate of fatalities comes amid a slight uptick in crash-related fatalities in recent years, according to statistics compiled by the state.

Last year, 159 people died on Maine roads, the highest single-year total since 2007, when 176 died. The upward trend began after the state’s lowest annual fatality rate in 2014, when 113 people died. It was followed by 141 deaths in 2015 and 148 in 2016.

Davin Clark, shown in an undated photo, was 7 when he was killed Saturday in Berwick.

Historical year-to-date figures were not immediately available from the state, so it is unclear yet whether the 53 deaths so far in 2018 is higher than normal.

Regardless, state officials are urging motorists to follow posted speed limits, put down mobile devices and drive with care, especially as peak tourist season ramps up around the state, and when more people in general are out driving.

“We have a lot of people coming into the state who are not familiar with our roads in the summer time,” said Ted Talbot, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation. “And a swell of volume (in general), which is another factor.”

About four years ago, the state, in an effort to combat head-on crashes, began an aggressive campaign to install center-line rumble strips along highly trafficked and dangerous sections of roadway.

Kevin Clark, 29, was one of four people killed on Route 4 in Berwick on Saturday, on a stretch of road where the state had installed a rumble strip.

To date, more than 400 miles of the rumble strips have been carved into Maine pavement in key areas, state Traffic Engineer Steve Landry said.

The most deadly crash in the recent string of incidents occurred on Saturday, when four people died along Route 4 in Berwick on a stretch of road where the state had installed a rumble strip, Landry said.

It is unclear whether the strips made a difference – police said the crash occurred when a driver made an improper pass, lost control and slid into an oncoming SUV.

The crash is the most deadly on that roadway in at least 15 years. In that period, a total of 10 people have died on Route 4 in the towns of South Berwick, Berwick, North Berwick and Sanford.

Robert Howard, 31, of Buxton, the driver of the 1994 Honda Civic that crossed the center line, died at the scene, along with two of his passengers, Kevin Clark, 29, and his son, Davin Clark, 7.

The fourth person killed, Barbara Allen, 73, of Wells, was a passenger in the 2014 Ford Explorer that Howard struck.

Berwick Police Chief Timothy Towne posted an emotional statement to the department’s Facebook page on Monday in which he said the crash was a direct result of Howard’s decision to make an improper pass, and had nothing to do with road conditions, traffic or driver distraction.

“The witness statements and the observations during the investigation on that day and the days since indicated that this car accident took place due to a motorist who was operating far beyond the legal and acceptable norms. It took place due to a motorist’s decision to operate in a manner that was reckless and obviously deadly,” said Towne, who also criticized the media for how it covered the crash. “… The only way that the accident could have been avoided was if the motorist had chosen to operate safely like the overwhelming majority of the other motorists do.”

Mary Whitney of Biddeford said she was friends with the Kevin and Davin Clark, and was “overwhelmed” and “devastated” to learn Monday that they died the crash.

Whitney said she used to visit the Clarks at their North Berwick home, and enjoyed playing with their pet goats, fishing and using their all-terrain vehicles. She said they would also go camping and attend house parties together.

“He was an all-around great guy, fun and caring,” Whitney said. “He was the best dad I’ve ever seen to Davin.”

Whitney said Davin loved to play outdoors and was “fun-loving.”

“It’s such a tragic situation,” Whitney said.

Davin Clark was a first-grade student at North Berwick Elementary School, and the principal, Michael Archambault, sent out a message to families on Monday.

“We have grief counselors on hand at North Berwick Elementary School, and are in contact with the Center for Grieving Children. We will be speaking with each class to share this sad news. It is important for children to maintain a sense of normalcy during a traumatic event. Any student who needs additional support will be supported. We will send a follow-up message with resources to help parents have conversations with their children. Thank you for your support during this difficult time,” Archambault wrote.

Melinda Breault, another friend of the Clarks, said in an email message to the Portland Press Herald that Kevin “loved cars” and that her son, Ayden, and Davin were good friends and were “inseparable.”

“I’m so heartbroken about this,” Breault said. “I never thought in a million years that Kevin and Davin would leave this world this soon.”

Two other passengers in the Explorer – Eurie Stamps, 49, and Shannon Stamps, 17, both of Woburn, Massachusetts – sustained injuries that were not life-threatening, police said.

A fourth occupant of the Honda Civic, K-La Scott, 22, of Gorham, suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries, police said.

The spate of fatalities began June 5, when a mother and a daughter died in a head-on collision on Route 302 in Casco that also seriously injured another driver.

Police continue to investigate the cause of that crash.

Then Sunday in Casco, a motorcyclist from Quebec identified as Gaetan Charest, 66, died when his 2018 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide went off the road on a curve as he rode with a group of bikers near Route 11 and Coffee Pond Road, police said.

Police said Charest may have had a medical event that caused him to lose control. They don’t suspect that speed or alcohol was a factor.

Also on Sunday, police in Carrabassett Valley responded to a serious crash in which two SUVs collided head-on along Carrabassett Drive, leaving a 76-year-old Southwest Harbor man in critical condition.

And on Monday, another motorcyclist was killed, this time in Baldwin on Route 113 near Sebago Lake. Police have not identified the victim yet, but said the crash occurred when the motorcyclist was following too closely behind a late-model sedan and clipped the vehicle as it slowed to make a left turn.

The motorcycle then skidded into oncoming traffic, carrying the bike and its rider into the path of an oncoming pickup truck.

In addition to criticizing the media’s coverage of the Route 4 crash, Towne, the Berwick chief, also questioned the public’s seeming appetite for the grisly details of whatever happens to be the latest carnage in the news, whether it’s a fatal automobile accident or a deadly school shooting. He also targeted the public’s penchant for posting gruesome pictures to social media, sometimes even before police have responded to the scene.

“We wonder why we have mass shootings and senseless acts of random violence. We’ve sort of turned these monsters into celebrities,” Towne said. “The next festering monster sits and watches how we all devour the carnage that was just created and then how we wait silently for more. … If we didn’t want it, we wouldn’t watch it, read it or listen to it. It wouldn’t be sensationalized, and sadly the monster wouldn’t be the leading story.”

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MattByrnePPH

 

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