The driver killed in a violent crash that shut down the northbound lanes of the Maine Turnpike for close to five hours Friday was an esteemed longtime volunteer at York County Community Action Corp.
Earl Gray, 57, of Waterboro and his passenger, 5-year-old Wyatt Frost of Lyman, were killed as Gray was driving Wyatt from an educational program Friday afternoon. A box truck slammed into the rear of Gray’s car about 3 miles north of exit 19 in Wells as the two traveled north, rode up its roof and crashed down on it. The impact drove Gray’s car into a tractor-trailer in front of it.
“Earl was one of our best volunteers, very highly regarded,” said Barbara Crider, executive director of York County Community Action Corp.
The crash took place about 2 p.m. in northbound traffic that had slowed for an earlier accident. In that accident, at mile 24 in the southbound lanes, a driver was thrown from a vehicle that crashed into a median guardrail. Police have not identified the driver, who was taken to a hospital with critical injuries.
Crider said the staff at her agency was in shock Saturday.
Gray had been driving people to appointments for more than a decade and had been giving rides to Wyatt for a few years.
“It is just a nightmare. It is so tragic, the whole loss of this beautiful little child, and that Earl, in doing what came naturally to him, which was volunteering and spending his time serving others, would pay the ultimate price,” said Crider.
Gray drove children and elderly and disabled people almost every day of the week as a volunteer. Crider said he had been volunteering with the agency since 2006.
“He had a wonderful, easy manner,” she said.
York County Community Action, founded in 1965, provides services for low-income York County residents, such as transportation, weatherization, early childhood education and nutrition. Crider said the agency’s 30 volunteer drivers use their own vehicles.
Gray’s ex-wife, Laurie Gray of Sanford, described him as her best friend and the kind of man who couldn’t say no to people in need.
“He would do anything for anybody, even if he couldn’t,” she said.
Gray, who was disabled, started volunteering at York County Community Action to keep himself busy, but he soon fell in love with the work, his former wife said.
“He loved everything about it, but the kids were his favorite,” she said.
She said he frequently talked about Wyatt.
“He said how cute he was. He mentioned him a lot,” she said.
Attempts to contact Wyatt Frost’s family Saturday were unsuccessful. A gofundme page (gofundme.com/wyatt-frost-funeral-fund) has been set up to raise money for the boy’s funeral. As of Saturday night, more than $9,000 had been raised toward a goal of $20,000.
The Wells Police Department, in a Facebook post Saturday, said Wyatt was a student at the Morrison Center in Wells. The Morrison Center provides programs for adults and children with disabilities.
Gray said her ex-husband lived with and cared for his 90-year-old mother in Waterboro in the home he grew up in. He was close to the couple’s children, Stephanie, 28, and Paul, 25, she said.
He also enjoyed hanging out with his racing friends at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough.
On Saturday, Maine State Police had few new details about the crash. The driver of the box truck was identified as John Kamau, 56, of Lowell, Massachusetts, who was delivering mail from New Hampshire to Portland. Kamau and the driver of the tractor-trailer, who has not been identified by police, were not seriously hurt.
The crash stranded drivers north of exit 19, who could not be rerouted to Route 1 for more than five hours as emergency workers and investigators worked to clear the scene. Some stranded drivers expressed frustration at the lack of information provided to them by officials.
Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said it took so long to reopen the highway because of the violent nature of the crash.
“They had to methodically investigate with photos and measurements. Unfortunately, it took a long time,” said McCausland.
No one has been charged in the fatal accident. McCausland said further details of the crash would be compiled and forwarded to the York County district attorney for review.
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy contributed to this report.