Karen Nightingale and her husband of less than two months were preparing to make a new life in a new home.
They were headed to that house July 6 when Nightingale’s motorcycle hit a pothole on Western Avenue in Augusta. The impact overturned the bike and threw her to the ground.
“She never regained consciousness,” Jared Nightingale, her husband of 54 days, said Wednesday.
Karen Nightingale, formerly O’Donnell, of Gardiner, died Tuesday at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. She was 53.
“She was probably the most forgiving woman I’ve ever met,” Jared Nightingale said.
She worked in law enforcement in northern Kennebec County for more than 20 years before taking a job last year as a Department of Health and Human Services investigator, and was recalled Wednesday as a dedicated cop, caring mother and a trustworthy friend.
“You could fill a whole newspaper about Karen and not cover everything,” said her friend Shanna Blodgett, who served with her on the Fairfield Police Department. “She was a great person.”
The July 6 accident happened as the Nightingales – Karen on the Harley-Davidson Jared had bought for her – rode east on Western Avenue with two friends, on their way to see the house the couple planned to close on four days later. As the group entered the road construction site near Woodside Road, Jared Nightingale saw a bike overturn out of the corner of his eye.
His wife was flown to CMMC. Although wearing a helmet, she had suffered significant head injuries.
He said his wife’s heart stopped immediately following the accident, but two medical professionals happened upon the scene and performed CPR. Nightingale hoped that his wife had been through the worst.
“We had a lot of hope of a recovery,” he said.
‘SHE GOT ALONG WITH FOLKS’
Karen Nightingale worked for the U.S. Border Patrol in Houlton before moving her family back to central Maine. She was hired as a dispatcher for the Waterville Police Department in 1993 and was so good at her job that Chief Joseph Massey, who was deputy chief at the time, believed she deserved an opportunity to fill a vacant patrol officer’s position.
Nightingale completed the police academy and went on the night shift. She had switched to days before leaving to take a job as a detective with the Skowhegan Police Department.
Nightingale was recruited to be a security agent at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Massey said she was there when a bomb in a backpack went off, killing one person and injuring more than 100.
Nightingale joined the Fairfield Police Department in 2002 and was assigned as a resource officer at Lawrence High School. She held the position until leaving last year.
Nightingale’s son, Michael Pummell, said she was skilled at reading people, particularly teenagers. Pummell said he learned that firsthand growing up with her.
“I didn’t get away with much,” he said, chuckling at the thought. “She knew the tricks of the trade.”
Blodgett said students trusted Nightingale and felt they could confide in her.
The Nightingales were married May 23 at First Baptist Church of Hallowell, which they attended regularly.
“We both love the church,” he said.
Jared Nightingale has a photo taken by police of the pothole that claimed his wife’s life.
The pothole, which measured 24 inches in length, 14 inches in width and more than 5 inches deep, is believed to have opened up during a rain storm.
The road construction, which started about a year ago, has left a patchwork of new tar and, at times, gravel, as crews move both above and below ground utilities.
Despite the disruption, Project Manager Shawn Smith of the Maine Department of Transportation said the project has generated relatively few complaints from the roughly 23,000 commuters who drive the road ever day.
“The work has made some portions of the road better and some worse,” Smith said. “That’s just the nature of construction.”