A retired former director of public works in Cape Elizabeth was killed Monday when a sport utility vehicle driven by another resident backed into him at the town’s recycling center, police said.

Herbert Dennison, 79, had walked into the trash compacting building at the center and was in the process of disposing of his trash when a Ford Explorer operated by Christine Sharp-Lopez, 72, of Cape Elizabeth backed into him, Police Chief Neil Williams said.

“Her vehicle backed up at a high rate of speed and ran into Herb, pushing him into the hopper,” Williams said.

By the time police and emergency medical technicians arrived around 10:30 a.m., Dennison had died.

The hopper, which compacts trash before it is transported to the ecomaine trash facility in Portland, was not in operation at the time. Residents are encouraged to back their vehicles into the building before dumping their trash into the hopper. There is enough space for three parked cars.

Sharp-Lopez has not been charged in Dennison’s death.

Williams said a vehicle autopsy will be conducted to determine if her SUV malfunctioned in some way. He said police are also considering the possibility that she accidentally stepped on the vehicle’s accelerator instead of its brakes.

“We want to make sure that we cover all our bases,” the police chief said.

Once police complete their investigation, a report will be presented to the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office to determine if Sharp-Lopez should be charged, Williams said.

Dennison Drive, the access road leading into the recycling center and transfer station off Spurwink Avenue, is named after Dennison, who served as Cape Elizabeth’s director of public works from 1966 to 1981. Dennison began working for the town in 1955.

Williams said Dennison was married and had three grown children. He lived on Spurwink Avenue in Cape Elizabeth.

“It’s definitely a tragedy,” he said. “Herb has a very close-knit family.”

Dennison was remembered fondly Monday by people who knew him.

“Herb hired me. We go back a long way,” said Bob Malley, who has been Cape Elizabeth’s director of public works since 1986. “I learned a lot from him. His work ethic was terrific.”

Since Dennison was appointed director in 1966, only Malley and one other person, Phillip Mullin, have held the post.

During Dennison’s early years as public works director, he would take phone calls at his house during snowstorms and direct plow trucks to locations that needed to be plowed or sanded., Malley recalled. He was usually available 24 hours a day to respond to emergencies.

“Herb was one in a million. My family has known Herb for a long time,” said Carol Anne Jordan, a longtime Cape Elizabeth resident who serves on the Planning Board. “He told it like it was. He didn’t pull any punches. He was the real deal.”

Jordan said Dennison was a close friend of her father, Bill Jordan Sr., a local farmer, and is sure to be remembered by longtime residents.

“People who have been around long enough to know him are in mourning,” she said.

The town named the road leading to the recycling center after Dennison when he retired in 1981.

“His work ethic and his dedication to the community is what made him stand out. He set the standard for us to maintain excellent road conditions in winter. He set the bar high,” Malley said. “There has been an incredible sense of loss. People are very saddened by his passing.”