SKOWHEGAN — Darla Pickett, a former Skowhegan selectwoman and longtime reporter for the Morning Sentinel, died Tuesday after she appeared to have suffered a medical emergency while driving her SUV in Skowhegan, according to police. She was 76.

“It appears that she suffered some type of medical issue and that issue caused her to lose control and roll her vehicle,” Chief David Bucknam of the Skowhegan Police Department said Wednesday.

Darla Pickett in 2015, when reelected to the Skowhegan Board of Selectmen. Morning Sentinel file

Emergency workers responded to Cowette Street at about 5:45 p.m., after receiving report of a single-vehicle rollover. When rescuers arrived, they discovered Pickett’s Ford Escape.

Pickett was extricated from the SUV and CPR was administered, according to police. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Pickett served as a selectwoman and had retired from the Morning Sentinel in 2008, after 24 years writing prolifically on crime, courts and other topics. Following her retirement, she continued to write for the newspaper’s special sections.

Pickett had worked as a reporter for the Bangor Daily News, was a reporter and editor for the weekly Somerset Reporter and did public relations work for two years for former U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith.

Bucknam said when he joined the Skowhegan Police Department in 2017, Pickett was a selectwoman, and “within a couple days she came down to my office to talk to me, gave me her history so I could know her better and she could know me better.”

“She really made me feel like I was a part of the town,” he said. “She was always out there doing great things for this town. Her family, who I am very close with, I just feel absolutely devastated for them.”

Pickett served on the Board of Selectmen from 2014 to 2018, according to Town Manager Christine Almand.

“I’ve had a relationship with Darla from both aspects,” Almand said. “We worked together when she was here as a reporter for the Morning Sentinel, as well as when she was on the Board of Selectmen.”

Almand said when Pickett was reporting on the board, she was known for pulling up her chair to be closer to selectmen “so she could pay closer attention in order to get the story right.”

“She was a very smart lady — very thorough. And in all things, she was a really kindhearted, beautiful soul,” Almand said. “I could always count on her to help out when we were looking for someone to pen things just right.”

Betty Austin, a longtime friend, said she and Pickett became close over two decades, before serving together on the Board of Selectmen. Pickett was a member of the Business Professional Women’s Club, a group that encourages women to get involved in business and politics.

“Darla really wanted to get involved and do things,” Austin said. “And she loved her family.”

Pickett grew up in North Anson, according to her daughter, Trisha Austin, and her life would later be marred by tragedy.

Pickett’s husband, James Pickett, died decades earlier in an automobile crash, and her daughter Lori Pickett Hayden, 53, and grandson Dustin Tuttle, 26, were victims of domestic violence when they were killed in a shooting in 2017 in Madison.

“She was just a wonderful, wonderful, strong lady,” Austin said of her mother. “My father died when my sister and I were 2 and 4, and she just took us under her wing and never looked back.”

Austin said after her father died, her mother moved the family from North Anson to Skowhegan and began her career in journalism.

More recently, Pickett stayed active in a book club and remained current on community happenings. Pickett suffered from asthma and, later in life, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, Austin said.

Other family members and friends remembered Pickett as a tough-minded, dogged reporter who loved crossword puzzles and York Peppermint Patties, which Almand said she would keep in her officer drawer for when Pickett stopped by. Almand said she recently replenished the mints in anticipation of Pickett’s next visit.

Morning Sentinel reporter and columnist Amy Calder called Pickett a prolific writer and editor who was born with a nose for news, was tough as nails and had a warm and engaging personality that prompted sources to open up to her.

“She was a class act,” Calder said Wednesday. “Darla was my mentor and role model when I started at the paper as a reporter 34 years ago. We worked literally side by side at both the Skowhegan and Waterville Sentinel offices and she taught me everything I needed to know. She was no-nonsense and had a great sense of humor.”

In addition to Trisha Austin, Pickett is survived by her brother, Duayne Gilbert, 81, of Elizabethton, Tennessee; grandchildren Kaleb Austin, 29, and Lexie Crocker, 24; and four great-grandchildren. Funeral arrangements will be announced later.

“She was one of the best,” Trisha Austin said. “She had received so many compliments for being one of the best newspaper reporters. She was very, very proud of that, and was proud to be the roving reporter for Skowhegan for many years.”

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