Heartsick. That was the mood in Hancock County Sept. 23 and since after news broke of the death of Sheriff’s Deputy Luke Gross. He died doing what seems to comprise much of an officer’s job – sorting out someone else’s mess. He was clearing debris from a crash scene in Trenton when he was struck by a pickup. He died of his injuries.
We have no words of comfort to offer. It was horrific. It should not have happened. It did. Those in law enforcement carry a weapon and badge, but they are vulnerable. Every traffic stop or incident call, no matter how mundane, carries an open-ended question: What if this is the time something goes terribly wrong? Always, but even more so recently, roadways have been one of those points of vulnerability.
When he arrived on scene in those early morning hours in Trenton, Deputy Gross parked his cruiser in the breakdown lane with emergency lights activated. He was wearing a reflective safety vest when he bent down to pick something up from the road. He was struck from behind. Authorities said the driver cooperated fully with the investigation and no charges are expected. While it is tempting to speculate and cast blame, it does not change the circumstances of the case. Investigating officers in the state police have every reason to get this one right on behalf of their former colleague.
Without the anger, there is only grief. Gross, 44, of Hancock, was raised in Bucksport. He was a proud dad and an 18-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office. He was a professional, but a child at heart. His work with kids was one of the best parts of the job. He was a DARE officer in area schools as well as a volunteer counselor at Camp POSTCARD (Police Officers Striving to Create and Reinforce Dreams), a free week-long summer camp staffed by officers and other first responders. There, children from around the state gather to do all the normal camp activities while having positive interactions with law enforcement. The camp aims to break down barriers and build relationships, according to Sheriff Scott Kane.
Relationship-building was at the heart of Gross’s policing. He treated people warmly, with respect and a smile. He cared about the community. He coordinated the Sheriff’s Cup fundraiser and an ATV ride to raise funds to buy Christmas gifts for those in need. Perhaps the greatest tribute to his memory would be following his lead.
And while authorities have found no wrongdoing in the crash, the tragedy is a reminder to us all to be cautious and vigilant while driving, especially at a scene where first responders are present. Public safety officials this year have implored drivers to obey Maine’s “Move Over” laws. Slow down and move over when passing stopped emergency vehicles with flashing lights. In honor of Deputy Gross and of his first responder family, let’s listen.