WATERVILLE — Rochelle Hager was a happy person, an executive chef who was 10 years sober from addiction when she was killed Monday in a freak accident caused by a tree branch striking her car in high winds in Farmington.

Rochelle Hager Photo courtesy of Brittanie Lynn Ritchie

Hager, 31, was engaged to the love of her life, Brittanie Lynn Ritchie.

“We were getting married Oct. 16 — we had already gotten the venue and photographer and everything,” Ritchie said Tuesday.

Ritchie, 28, said she was talking with Hager by cell phone when the crash occurred Monday as Hager was driving south just before 10 a.m. on Knowlton Corner Road in Farmington. A pine tree limb crashed onto the roof of Hager’s 2015 Nissan Rogue, killing her instantly.

“It happened really quick,” Ritchie said. “She has a phone mounted in her vent. I just heard a crash and then there was nothing. She didn’t see the tree coming. It was instant.”

Ritchie was speaking Tuesday in a phone interview, just after leaving a Waterville florist shop to head to the crash site about 35 miles away.

Farmington police Chief Kenneth Charles said after the crash Monday that Hager was pronounced dead at the scene, near 833 Knowlton Corner Road. After impact, the car appeared to have crossed the centerline and come to a stop in the northbound lane.

Contacted Tuesday to ask about how rare such an occurrence is, Shannon Moss, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said she checked with Lauren Stewart, director of the Bureau of Highway Safety.

“They do not have any information about this type of thing happening before,” Moss said.

Rochelle Hager, left, and Brittanie Lynn Ritchie in happier times. Contributed photo

Meanwhile, Ritchie spoke tearfully Tuesday about how she and Hager, whom friends referred to as “Roe,” met in June last year through a mutual friend and fell in love. Hager was popular on TikTok and the couple shared their story with fans on that site.

“We had a following on TikTok, and she was all about positivity and making people laugh,” Ritchie said. “She was that kind of person. She was my son’s best friend.”

Ritchie, who works in the mental health field, said her two children, Jensyn, 9, and Prestyn, 4, loved Hager, who was teaching Jensyn how to cook.

“She was executive chef at The Woodlands in Waterville and was chef at Amici’s Cucina before that,” Ritchie said.

The Woodlands, on West River Road in Waterville, includes Park Residences, for those living independently, as well as an assisted living facility and one for memory care. Hager was in Farmington on Monday as part of her job, Ritchie said.

Rochelle Hager with Jensyn, 9, the son of fiancee Brittanie Lynn Ritchie. Contributed photo

Benjamin Smith, The Woodlands’ director of operations, said Tuesday in a phone interview that he had the pleasure of hiring Hager, who had been employed there only about 60 days before she died, but her presence was memorable.

He said she took to heart what she learned in employee orientation about making each day the best day. She had an infectious personality and lit up a room when she entered, according to Smith.

“She did make such a huge impact on the lives of the residents she served,” he said.

The coronavirus pandemic had been challenging for everyone, and Hager brought with her to the job a sense of warmth and positivity.

“When you find someone like that, an employee that has that type of personality or aura, it makes a huge difference in the lives of the seniors we serve,” Smith said.

He recalled that a man of French descent living in the assisted living part of The Woodlands had been craving pea soup and asked if it could be added to the menu. The request was not lost on Hager.

“She went out of her way and made him a homemade pea soup,” he said. “That just made his whole day, month, year.”

Mary Carpinito, owner of Amici’s Cucina restaurant in downtown Waterville, said Tuesday that she had heard about the car crash Monday but did not know the identity of the victim. When she learned via Facebook Monday night that it was Hager, she was shocked.

“She was one of our chefs,” Carpinito said. “She was very nice, had a positive attitude, big smile always on her face. When I heard who it was, my heart just stopped. You just never know. She was such a sweet, sweet person.”

Both Smith and Carpinito said their hearts go out to Ritchie in her loss.

Hager had grown up in Florida but her parents live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, according to Ritchie. She said Hager moved to Maine in August.

Brittanie Lynn Ritchie, left, walks Tuesday where her fiancee, Rochelle Hager, was killed a day earlier when a tree limb fell on her car during high winds along the 800 block of Knowlton Corner Road in Farmington. Ritchie was supported by her friends Christina Wilbur and Hannah Bard, behind. The women brought a sunflower, pussy willows and a card announcing the couple’s October 2021 wedding. The items were attached to a power pole. Bard said the trio became friends when they were 13. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“She was a huge advocate for addiction and she survived it and was clean for over 10 years,” she said. “When she got through that, she went to culinary school in Florida. She was amazing.”

Ritchie said that before Hager went off to work Monday morning, they had talked about having a family.

“We had picked out a name the night before for a girl,” she said.

A celebration of life is being planned for Hager in Pittsburgh and another one may also be held in Florida, where she had more relatives and friends, according to Ritchie.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.