‘No one sets out to be in a crash, but when it happens, it can affect many other people besides just you’

Vehicular crashes strain public safety systems as numbers trend higher

Tue, 05/16/2023 - 2:30pm

    An interesting trend is occurring in regards to motor vehicle crashes, according to Knox County Sheriff Patrick Polky. It’s not the number of MVAs that is pulling off-duty deputies back to work in the county. Instead, there is an increase in post-crash investigations and law enforcement attendance at scenes, many of which are marked by a growing commonality that involves operating under the influence.

    Rockport Fire Chief Jason Peasley has a different perspective.

    The small town of Rockport – population 3,373 — has three highways running through it, routes 1, 17 and 90. The Fire Department has seen a rise in the number of crashes, and Peasley suspects that driver inattention is more common than OUI or speeding.

    Since he assumed the post of chief in 2013, Peasley has watched the number of calls — structures fires, out-of-control burns, crashes, overdoses, even fire alarm investigations – steadily increase. Ten years ago, the department was averaging 148 calls per year. The average now is 231, with a likelihood of increasing to a 300 per year in the near future.

    Of that, and average of 50 to 70 of the calls are related to motor vehicle incidents. By May 4 of this year alone, Rockport Fire Dept. had responded to its 108th call. In the first three weeks of spring, firefighters were called to five grass/woods fires.

    After a busy March-April 2023, when some days saw five crashes occurring around Knox County in but one hour, and with budgets stretched and volunteer participation diminishing, departments are looking for relief.

    Knox County Sheriff Department deputies have been responding to crashes involving multiple vehicles, multiple passengers, more severe injuries, extensive damage and road closures. And an already tense situation can be exacerbated by higher stress levels. People are injured, upset and unnerved.

    In one 24-hour period in April, deputies responded to three motor vehicle crashes, one of which occurred minutes after a head-on crash in Thomaston. All of them  required investigation. One involved shutting down a heavily trafficked road at an intersection, one involved an ambulance, and the other was a single-vehicle crash on a side street that took down an important utility pole.

    Each year, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office budgets for potential incidents when off-duty deputies are called to a scene to help. That requires paying overtime.

    Sometimes, it can take an hour for the deputy assigned to the crash to gather names, license information and other details, or to tail the ambulance to the hospital for follow-ups. That can lead to requests for additional units to manage scene safety.

    This year’s Sheriff’s Office budget did not anticipate the uptick in crashes with complicating factors, said Polky.

    “We try to foresee as best we can, but in law enforcement there is no recoupment,” he said. “It’s the cost of doing business.”

    While overall cost to a driver convicted with OUI can reach $7,000; replacing a utility pole can cost the driver $5,000 or more; and an emergency response to the same crash can generate $5,000 to $10,000 in bills for the municipality. 

    For most municipalities, reimbursement for vehicular crashes and other calls can be slim to none. Rockland is in the early stages of exploring how to recoup some fire department costs, according to Rockland Fire Chief Chris Whytock.

    As Sheriff Polky looks ahead to next year’s budget requests with the Knox County Commissioners, Chief Peasley heads to Rockport’s 2023 Town Meeting, June 13, with hopes that voters approve the fire department’s budget, and a new West Rockport Fire Station. The fire department budget includes this year two paid firefighter/EMT positions.

    Currently, Rockport volunteer firefighters are paid a stipend each time they respond to a call. During the summer, an average of 12 volunteers may show up, said Peasley. But the incident itself can also decide the volunteer response.

    “The nature of the call sometimes dictates the number of people going,” he said. “For a car accident at 2 in the morning, they know it is probably going to be more exciting, so they tend to get out of bed for that. If there’s a call for a structure fire and flames showing, that usually perks everybody’s excitement level.”

    The number of volunteers responding drops considerably for fire alarms, because, a good majority of the time, the reason is burnt food on the stove or a faulty detector. 

    The crash scene

    Any crash is debilitating, no matter whether it is a fender bender or one involving multiple fatalities. They are terrifying, and costly.

    Central Maine Power today, May 16, issued its first-ever (that we’ve seen) news release warning drivers to be careful. Seven power poles were demolished this past weekend, cutting electricity to 6,000 ratepayers in different areas across the state.

     Knox County crashes reported between January 1 and April 30
    Data provided by Knox County Communications Center

      PD Accident (police response only) Accidents (unknown injuries or injuries, therefore requiring FD, EMS response as well as PD)
    2022 223 98
    2023 211 90

    “No one sets out to be in a crash, but when it happens, it can affect many other people besides just you,” said Lauren Stewart, Director of Maine Bureau of Highway Safety, in a news release. “First responders and power company lineworkers must respond to restore power and clear the scene. You have one job when you’re behind the wheel: just drive.”

    And linesmen are first responders, too, according to CMP Lead Lineworker Mike MacDonald. Power company personnel respond to crashes as soon as they are called by the county emergency call centers, those at the receiving end of the 911 calls.

    “As soon as you leave the house, your mind is just thinking about that call – what to do,” said William Smith, district line supervisor for Central Maine Power. “The whole ride there, you are thinking ‘what’s going to happen when I get there?’”

    Just like fire, EMS, and police, standard mental checklists are followed by the on-call CMP linesman responding to a crash involving a utility pole. And, in Knox and Waldo counties, CMP owns the majority of those poles.

    “If we get a call [from CMP’s communications center], we stop what we are doing or get out of bed, get in the truck and we go to the scene,” said MacDonald.

    In 2022, CMP responded to 544 motor vehicle crashes across the broader region of Maine in which it operates. Of those crashes, 34 were during major storms.

    “We assess what we have,” MacDonald said. “We have to make sure that scene is safe for everybody in that area before anybody can really get involved in restoration or helping anybody. We’re going through our head – where does this feed from? Where does the power come from, where we can open that up and disconnect the power? Where can we make it safe?” 

    After scoping the area, the linesman returns to the scene and determines which pole is involved, what equipment is on the pole, calls in a crew to come and help, and tells the communication center what is needed for equipment.

    CMP has multiple energy substations around their territory that they can feed electricity from. But, if they need a new pole, they must return to the district office in Rockland. CMP has flaggers that they often contract with, but if it’s a bad scene, they’ll ask the fire department and/or police department to stand by and block the road.

    “Because, in an emergency scene, it’s hard to pay attention to traffic and your job,” said MacDonald.

    The following statistics came from Maine CRASH, a mirror of all reportable crashes submitted electronically by every police department in the state to the Maine State Police’s MCRS (Maine Crash Reporting System).

    While all three of these systems update hourly, there is an average of about five days from when a crash happens to when it is submitted by the reporting agency to MCRS, according to Shawn MacDonald, Senior Technician of MDOT’s crash records department. The records team then reviews the reports for location accuracy.

    Data is based on MDOT’s mapped roadway network. Crashes that occur on unmapped private roads, rural unmapped dirt roads, and parking lots are not included in data available on the Crash Query Tool.

    Knox County

    (number of crashes)

    (number of crashes)













    Peak day of the week

    Thursday and Friday (based on entire year average)

    Tuesday (35) and Saturday (36)

    Peak time of day

    4 p.m. (based on entire year average)

    6 p.m. (19)


    Jan (7) Feb (3) March (7) April (5)

    Jan (3) Feb (2) March (2) April (1)

    Distracted driver

    Jan (7 ) Feb (2 ) March (10 ) April (8)

    Jan (8) Feb (8) March (4) April (7)

    Driver age (age category with the most crashes)

    25 - 29

    35 -39


    Waldo County















    Peak day of the week

    Wednesday and Saturday (based on entire year numbers)

    Tuesday and Thursday

    Peak day of the week 

    5 p.m. (based on entire year numbers)

    4 p.m. (25)


    Jan (3) Feb (2) March (4) April (4)

    Jan (2) Feb (2) March (0) April (3)

    Distracted Driving

    Jan (7) Feb (7) March (9) April (4)

    Jan (4) Feb (5) March (4) April (3)

    Driver Age (age category with the most crashes)

    25 - 29

    30 - 34