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Vehicle malfunction ruled out in fatal accident at Cape Elizabeth Recycling Center

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Vehicle malfunction ruled out in fatal accident at Cape Elizabeth Recycling Center

CAPE ELIZABETH — A vehicle autopsy has determined there was no malfunction of the Ford Explorer that struck and killed retired Public Works Director Herbert Dennison at the Recycling Center on Nov. 24.

Police Chief Neil Williams on Wednesday said the full report has not been received, but he has been told it will confirm there was nothing wrong with the vehicle.

Williams said he believes driver error by Christine Sharp-Lopez, 72, is the reason she backed into Dennison, 79, and knocked him into the trash hopper.

"We're waiting for the report to come in and then we'll bring it to the (Cumberland County district attorney)," Williams said.

Williams will meet with the district attorney to review the report and determine if charges will be filed against Sharp-Lopez. He said a meeting won't be scheduled until the report is available.

On Nov. 25, a day after the accident, Williams said the accelerator of the vehicle was down and that "the vehicle came in at a high rate of speed" and that Sharp-Lopez was "at the gas, not the brake."

Police are still awaiting results of a blood test administered to Sharp-Lopez the day of the accident, to determine if she was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. On Wednesday, Williams said he expects to receive the results "any day now."

Police also had a crash reconstructionist review the accident, but Williams said that report didn't give them any information they didn't already have.

Director of Public Works Bob Malley on Nov. 25 said one car was already pulled up to the hopper when Sharp-Lopez approached. Williams said Dennison was walking up to the hopper, rather than driving up to it, because his vehicle was towing a trailer.

The trash hopper is in the bottom of a two-story shed built on the side of a plateau at the Recycling Center. Vehicles approach from above, where there is room for three cars or pick-up trucks to back in and drop trash down into the hopper.

Town Manager Mike McGovern announced Dec. 1 that the town would have Woodard and Curran, a solid waste and recycling engineering firm, assess the safety of the facility. The firm's report is expected to be available Dec. 22.

McGovern on Dec. 1 said he wants Woodard and Curran to recommend "short-term measures" to improve safety and that he also wants to hire the firm for a longer study.

Also, the Town Council on Dec. 8 approved the creation of a five-member citizens committee to look at the safety of the Recycling Center and to "review solid waste and recycling options for the community."

Williams said the case can't move forward until the vehicle report and blood test results come in, and that for now the police just have to wait.

"Everything's pretty much complete on our part," he said. "We're just waiting to get everything back."

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.