GLENBURN – A man was struck and killed by a plow truck early Thursday morning while doing a good deed for his elderly neighbor.
Frank Leighton, 70, died at the side of Route 15 after he was hit by a private plow truck while picking up Lorraine McLaughlin’s newspaper and mail.
Leighton had just finished plowing McLaughlin’s driveway, which he had done for 25 years, when he crossed the slippery road on foot to her mailbox. He was returning to the other side of the road when the accident occurred.
The Glenburn man was hit about 6:30 a.m. by a red GMC truck with an attached yellow plow driven by Chris Jackson, 44, of Hudson.
“He was the best neighbor that we ever had,” a shaken McLaughlin said Thursday afternoon. “It’s so sad this had to happen.”
Road and visibility conditions were both poor at the time of the accident, Trooper David Yankowsky of the Maine State Police said later Thursday.
“It was very slushy and snow-covered. It was very slippery,” he said. “Visibility wasn’t that great.” The officer didn’t know whether Jackson had his headlights on.
Jackson, who works for Steven Dunn of Kenduskeag, had begun his night plowing shift at 1 a.m. Thursday. By dawn, he was on his way home in the hazy sunrise when he tragically crossed paths with Leighton, who was in the middle of the northbound lane.
“He did try to stop,” Yankowsky said of Jackson. “It’s not like he didn’t try to stop at all.”
The trooper described Jackson as “very distraught about the whole thing.”
“He’s very cooperative,” Yankowsky said. “He was very straightforward about everything.”
Jackson, who phoned in the emergency at 6:31 a.m. on a cell phone, told officers he had been traveling about 35-40 mph when he struck Leighton with the middle of his plow.
Leighton was dragged about 100 feet by the truck.
Yankowsky said the slippery road conditions prevented Jackson from stopping the truck sooner.
Leighton was alive when the emergency report came in, but died about a minute later, according to the trooper.
The cause of death was determined to be blunt head trauma, according to the Maine Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Dr. Dan Gott, medical examiner, performed an external examination of Leighton’s injuries.
An accident reconstruction expert was at the scene Thursday morning, but because of slush and snow on the road, it was difficult to determine Jackson’s precise speed, the trooper said.
“At this time, I’m going to say charges won’t be pressed against Jackson,” Yankowsky said. “There was nothing deliberate on his part.”
Dunn, Jackson’s employer, declined to comment Thursday about the accident.
Bangor fire and police departments, Glenburn Fire and Rescue, the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department, Capital Ambulance and the Maine State Police all responded to the accident. Traffic was backed up for miles on both sides of the accident scene, which was cleared shortly after 9 a.m.
Leighton’s daughter, Glenna Burleigh of Glenburn, was with him when he died.
She said later Thursday morning that doing good deeds was all in a day’s work for her father.
“He was always there if you needed him,” she said. “He was always willing to help out his next-door neighbor.”
Burleigh described her father as a caring family man and a Shriner who would have celebrated his 42nd wedding anniversary with his wife, Gloria, this July.
Although physically troubled by Parkinson’s disease and a back injury he had received during a stint in the Air Force, Leighton never gave up, she said.
“He just kept right on helping around the house, doing what he could,” she said. “That’s what kept him going.”
She recalled the decade of trips she and her parents made around Maine to show their horses, and her father’s love for his five grandchildren.
“We are a close family,” Burleigh said. “Both of my parents got to see the kids every day.”
Leighton worked for years as an electrician at the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building in Bangor. He retired in his early 40s because of his back injury.
After that, he dedicated his time to his family, horses, home improvement – and helping his neighbors.
“I never expected it to happen like this,” Burleigh said of his sudden death.
McLaughlin gave her neighbor a succinct and sad eulogy.
“They don’t come any better,” she said.