BANGOR, Maine — A Winterport man was killed and a Bucksport firefighter seriously injured late Monday in what officers called a “horrific” accident on the Bucksport-Verona Island Bridge.
Lance Sanborn, 28, of Verona Island, a full-time firefighter and paramedic with the Bucksport Fire Department and a reserve officer with the Police Department, was headed across the bridge at about 11:30 p.m. Monday when the accident occurred.
According to police reports, a vehicle driven by Thomas Johnson, 52, of Winterport crossed the centerline near the middle of the bridge and struck Sanborn’s pickup truck, which had a snowplow mounted on it. The vehicles collided head on.
Johnson was thrown from his vehicle and died at the scene, according to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety. Sanborn was trapped in the vehicle. His co-workers at the Bucksport Fire Department worked for about 45 minutes to free him from the wreck.
“We talked to everybody so they would understand who was involved before they got there so it was not such a shock,” said Fire Chief Craig Bowden. “We did what had to be done. We went through the routine the way we normally would.”
Sanborn had worked the day shift on Monday and had been called back in for an ambulance run that night. He’d left the fire station and had plowed a few driveways before heading home, according to Bowden.
Sanborn was taken by helicopter to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor where he underwent surgery on Tuesday for multiple serious injuries to his legs. Information about his condition was not available Tuesday evening.
“I give a lot of credit to the fire department,” said Bucksport police Sgt. Sean Gegan. “They never blinked. You could tell it bothered all of them, but they worked just like they always do.”
Responding to an accident that involves a co-worker is one of the most difficult things public safety workers have to do, he said.
“It starts before you get there, as soon as you get the call knowing it’s one of your own,” Gegan said. “We work together and depend on each other every day. Short of having a loved one in an accident, this is as bad as it gets.”
The mood was somber around the public safety building on Tuesday as firefighters continued to respond to the town’s emergencies, which included two more accidents.
“We’re certainly operating on automatic,” Bowden said. “We work, eat, breath all of this together, and it’s like a second family for those of us who are into it. This is certainly a situation where we need to stop and figure things out, but we can’t. We can’t just stop what we’re doing.”
Sanborn has been a member of the fire department in Bucksport for about three years, but has been involved in public safety for much of his life, Bowden said. He was a junior firefighter in the Old Town department and worked in Belfast for several years before joining the Bucksport department. He had taken a number of courses to advance in the department, Bowden said.
“He was on his way to a good career in public safety,” he said. “This has certainly been a life-altering event for him and his family.”
Sanborn and his wife are expecting their first child in May.The accident remains under investigation by the Maine State Police who were working Tuesday to determine why Johnson’s car crossed the centerline.