GARDINER — Charlie Ripley stood Monday in the nearly empty parking lot of Common Wealth Poultry Co. on what was supposed to be the final day of the three-shift schedule for the season.

But no one was working at the plant at the Libby Hill Business Park.

The company had received word hours earlier that a fatal crash had involved company employees, two of whom were killed.

Company officials responded by sending workers home and telling farmers, who were waiting to drop off their birds for processing, that operations at Common Wealth would cease for the rest of the day.

“We weren’t going to make our guys work after that,” said Ripley, the plant manager.

The company had posted a message on its Facebook page early Monday that three employees had died on their way to work. The message was updated later to say two employees had been killed.

“With a sad heart we inform you that two of our beautiful employees passed away this morning on their way to work. These are without a doubt the hardest words we’ve had to speak here at CWP,” the post read.

“Our hearts are with the families of those who have passed. Everyone here is part of one family, and we are going to spend today remembering the amazing people we love and cherish. Please be safe out there everyone, life is a gift.”

“All the people that we work with, they are basically like family,” Ripley said. “We work with these guys nonstop, and after a while they just become a part of you, like family. When something happened this morning and we figured it out, it was devastating.”

Sabattus police confirmed Monday morning that two people were killed and three injured in an accident at the Oak Hill Cash Market on Route 126 in Sabattus. Sun Journal photo by Chris Williams

About 20 miles away, near the intersection of Routes 197 and 126, Sabattus police were investigating a fatal crash that happened at about 5:45 a.m., in front of the Oak Hill Cash Market.

Sabattus Police Chief Sheila Wetherbee said a blue Chevrolet Equinox was traveling on Route 126 through Sabattus — from Lewiston toward Gardiner — when, for reasons that are not yet clear, it veered off the road and struck a beverage truck that was parked at the Oak Hill Cash Market.

Shane Cormier, 33, the driver of the beverage truck, had been unloading cases of drinks from the side of the truck. The truck was struck with such force that it knocked the driver over.

“He had a head injury,” Wetherbee said. “It wasn’t serious. He’s already been released.”

She said four people were carpooling in the Equinox, a male driver and three female passengers, all from the Somali community in Lewiston.

The driver, Wabah Sahal Salat, 60, and Shariffa Shale Ali, 48, a passenger in the back seat on the passenger side, were killed in the accident. The two passengers were taken to the hospital, Wetherbee said.

The other passengers in the car, Sareya Abdi, 38, and Mwavita Echa Kiza, 48, also suffered injuries. Along with Cormier, were taken to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.

Wetherbee said workers at the Oak Hill Cash Market did not see the crash but heard the battery in Salat’s vehicle explode.

Shawn Ridlon, who owns Oak Hill Cash, and Ryan Johnson, who lives nearby, were able to put out the fire and pull one of the survivors from the burning vehicle, according to Sabattus police, who said speed and driver distraction were believed to be contributing factors in the crash.

The Maine State Police Commercial Vehicle and Traffic Safety units are helping with the investigation and an accident reconstruction is being completed, according to police.

Lt. Dan Davies of the Sabattus Police Department has asked anyone who was in the area and saw what happened to call him at (207) 375-6952.

Members of the local Somali community approach the accident scene Monday. The four people in the vehicle were Somali, according to Sabattus police. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Ripley, who has worked at Common Wealth Poultry since it opened about five years ago, said most of the company’s employees are Somali, and many are family members.

“My noontime shift guy had called me, ” Ripley said. “He was on his way to come here, but he turned around and went to the hospital.”

At about the same time, someone at the scene of the accident called the company phone.

“I’ve known the crew (in the accident) for three of four years,” Ripley said. “They are just everyday people. They love to joke around and get the job done.”

Ripley said Salat had a key role in keeping things flowing at Common Wealth and had worked there for three or four years.

“These guys come in and work every day, and they love what they do,” he said. “You walk in here on an average day and they are laughing and talking in their own language. We laugh and joke around all the time.”

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