December 13, 2013

Woman killed in Topsham crash leaves behind husband, 10 children

A Brunswick firefighter may have fallen asleep when his pickup crossed the center line and killed a Somali woman on her way to work.

By David Hench
Staff Writer

A Brunswick firefighter has been granted a temporary leave of absence after being involved in a car crash in Topsham that killed a pregnant woman last weekend.

Robert Robitaille, 52, was headed west on Route 196 in Topsham near West Merrill Road on Sunday afternoon when his pickup crossed the center line and collided with a Volkswagen Passat driven by Salima Nuh, 37, of Auburn.

Nuh, who was pregnant, died in the crash, leaving her husband and 10 children. Robitaille was taken to a hospital, where he was treated for scrapes and bruises and released.

Nuh was an activist for women’s empowerment in the Somali community in Lewiston, and served on the executive board of the Somali Bantu Community Mutual Assistance Association of Lewiston/Auburn.

Robitaille, of Lisbon, is a captain on Crew 2 at the Brunswick Fire Department, a paramedic and head of the department’s hazardous materials response team. He also is a captain with the E.T. Smith Hose Company of the Lisbon Fire Department.

Brunswick Fire Chief Ken Brilliant said Robitaille has taken an agreed-upon leave from the department.

“He’s taking some time off to process” the incident, Brilliant said. Asked whether Brilliant’s role as a first responder makes the experience more difficult, Brilliant said: “It’s not easy for anybody in this situation.” He said he had talked with the firefighter but that it was inappropriate for him to share Robitaille’s feelings.

Police said they suspect Robitaille may have dozed off but are exploring a number of possibilities.

“Initially, he said he might have fallen asleep,” Lt. Frederick Dunn said. Police also are exploring whether a medical condition may have contributed to the collision or if Robitaille was distracted, Dunn said. Police don’t believe alcohol, drugs or speed were factors in the crash and there was no indication of cellphone use, he said.

Full-time firefighters often work 24-hour shifts, but Robitaille hadn’t worked a shift in Brunswick since the previous Thursday, Brilliant said. He was called in for extra manpower during a busy period Sunday, but only for about an hour, Brilliant said.

Dunn said he was unaware of any circumstance that might have contributed to Robitaille being tired. The accident happened at 3:30 p.m.

The pickup was headed down a steep hill near the Lisbon town line when it crossed into the eastbound lane.

Dunn said the collision badly damaged both vehicles. Neither Nuh nor Robitaille was thrown from their vehicle, he said, but he did not know whether they were wearing seatbelts.

Robitaille was apparently headed home and Nuh to work.

Robitaille could not be reached by telephone Thursday.

A memorial posted on the webpage of the Somali Bantu Community Mutual Assistance Association of Lewiston/Auburn said Nuh was driving to work in Brunswick when she was killed. She had nine children of her own and was guardian of a 10th.

The memorial said Nuh was a good problem solver and started many projects in the group’s women empowerment program.

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

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