March 17, 2010

Accident cuts bond of father, son team


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Cooper Campbell

James Mc Laughlin

Staff Writer

When Cooper Campbell's mother died of breast cancer three years ago, he and his father resolved to honor her by living full, happy lives together.

Life is full of ups and downs, his father said. It's how you handle them that builds and defines your character.

''We just remained incredibly diligent about being open and not shutting stuff down,'' Steve Campbell said Friday.

Cooper Campbell shined, growing into a young man of remarkable maturity and compassion, cheerful and at times hilarious. The 15-year-old and his father were a team, sharing a fondness for pop culture, sharp clothes, food and travel.

That bond was severed Monday night when a sport utility vehicle traveling the wrong way on the Maine Turnpike in Ogunquit collided with the Lincoln Town Car they were riding in. The crash killed Cooper Campbell and the car's driver, James McLaughlin, 65, of Gorham.

Steve Campbell, 48, was badly injured.

Police say they suspect the other driver, Donna Bartlett, 38, of Wells had been drinking and plan to present the results of their investigation to the York County District Attorney later this month to determine what charges are appropriate.

Close friends and immediate family converged on Maine Medical Center to support Steve Campbell and grieve the loss of his son, who they described as a charming and witty young man who made the people around him smile.

''He was kind of like a magnet, you just wanted to be around him,'' said his aunt, Tonya Shevenell. ''He could hang with a 2-year-old and a 92-year-old and he could hang with anyone in between. He was just such a comfortable, happy, pleasing person.''

Steve Campbell went to work for Hannaford Bros. in the 1970s. He met Janet Cooper, and the couple settled in Scarborough's Pleasant Hill neighborhood, in the house where Steve Campbell had been raised.

The Campbell side of the family tended to be musical and boisterous, the Coopers more reflective and intimate.

''Cooper really straddled both of those worlds,'' said his father, who is recuperating in the intensive care unit at Maine Med. His son was just as comfortable yelling loudly at a Red Sox game or being involved in a thoughtful exchange of ideas.

Cooper was the only grandson on the Campbell side of the family, and met the myriad of expectations that came with that, his father said. He was surrounded by adults and responded with maturity.

Janet Campbell was diagnosed with breast cancer when Cooper was not even a year old. She and her husband decided that as Cooper grew, they would include him in discussions about the disease, which would go into remission but could return and eventually become fatal.

Growing up with that knowledge -- and witnessing his mother's resilience and her work ethic -- Cooper developed into a caring and compassionate youth who appreciated life, family members said.

''He was joyful, smart and just the right mix of naughtiness that made him a treat to be around,'' said Shelley Broader, a close family friend and executive at a Hannaford affiliate in Florida. She recalled how her 9-year-old daughter asked Cooper to come to her birthday party.

''Here's fifteen 9-year-old girls and Cooper. He came to the party and swam in the pool, and jumped in the bounce house and threw everybody around,'' she said. ''That was the gift he gave her, and that was awesome.''

Steve Campbell received a promotion within the Hannaford corporation that led the family to move to Tampa, Fla., five years ago. In November 2004, Janet Campbell's cancer worsened and Steve Campbell told his son that it would be the last holidays the three would spend together. She died in March, a week-and-a-half after Cooper's 12th birthday.

''The odds are not in our favor to do really well here,'' Steve Campbell told his son. ''We can beat those odds if we stick together and manage this.''

The two stayed close, and Cooper handled his mother's passing well.

''He had to grow up fast,'' said his uncle, Don Campbell. ''I found myself saying, 'How's your dad doing?' and I almost never had to say to my brother, 'How's Cooper doing?' ''

A little over a year ago, Steve Campbell took another job with Hannaford's parent company that allowed the pair to return to Maine. Cooper enrolled at Cheverus High School.

Peter Gwilym, a fellow freshman, played on the football team with Cooper, where both were wide receivers.

''Everyone kind of liked Cooper. He was always a happy guy, kind of happy-go-lucky. He liked to have fun and sometimes goof around,'' he said.

When Gwilym won the starting job, Cooper lent him his brand new receiver gloves for the season.

When winter arrived, Cooper hit the slopes. A skateboarder, he was also an enthusiastic snowboarder, which he did at Sunday River and Sugarloaf until he broke his tibia.

Cooper healed, and he and his father decided to head to Naples for spring break. Monday afternoon, as they headed back to Maine, Campbell asked his son to identify the best 15 minutes of the trip.

He couldn't, because they were all pleasantly interwoven. ''It was just the experience of being together,'' Steve Campbell said.

On the ride home from Logan Airport, a rainy night after a long day of travel, each leaned their head onto a backpack and dozed in the back seat of the limousine.

''The next thing I remember hearing was the sound of the crash of the car,'' Campbell said. ''It was so disorienting.''

''Coop was leaning over on the other side of the back seat. I said 'Hey Coop, we've got to get up. We've got to get up. We've got to get up.' ''

Campbell said there are two things that keep him centered in the aftermath of Cooper's death.

One is that their last time together was so special.

The other is faith.

''I feel like he's not going somewhere where he's going to be alone, knowing that I'm just sort of handing him back to Janet,'' he said.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

On the ride home from Logan Airport, a rainy night after a long day of travel, each leaned their head onto a backpack and dozed in the back seat of the limousine.

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