UPDATE: DA to review accident that killed former Cape Elizabeth Public Works director

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Retired Public Works Director Herbert Dennison was killed Monday when he was knocked into a trash hopper/compactor at the Recycling Center.

Dennison, 79, was struck around 10:30 a.m. by a Ford Explorer driven by 72-year-old Christine Sharp-Lopez of Hunts Point Road. Police Chief Neil Williams said an investigation is continuing, but as of Tuesday morning no charges had been filed.

“Right now what we’re going to do with the case is that no charges are being brought forward at this time,” Williams said.

Williams said after police review the case, it will go to the Cumberland County district attorney to determine if there will be charges.

Williams said the vehicle driven by Sharp-Lopez is being examined to determine if there was a mechanical failure. He said the accelerator of the vehicle was down, but that it still needs to be determined if this was the fault of the car or the driver.

“We know the vehicle came in at a high rate of speed and that the lady was at the gas, not the brake,” Williams said.

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.

Director of Public Works Bob Malley 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.

“It appeared he didn’t want to back the whole trailer in,” Williams said. “It probably wouldn’t have fit.”

Malley said he believes this was the first death to occur at the Recycling Center. The facility is on Dennison Drive, named after the former Public Works director.

Dennison, who grew up in Cape Elizabeth, worked for the town for 26 years and became director of Public Works in 1966 before retiring in 1981. Malley said he knew Dennison very well, and that he was known for being a hard worker.

“Herb had a tremendous work ethic,” Malley said. “He really dedicated himself to Public Works.”

Malley said before an on-call employee was hired to cover nighttime emergencies in town, Dennison would respond to them himself. He said Dennison would always go out in the middle of the night, despite the weather, to help people or clear the roads of snow.

Malley said it was important to Dennison that Cape Elizabeth had the best roads possible.

“One of things he projected was working hard and taking care of the roads in Cape Elizabeth,” he said.

Malley said Dennison was instrumental in making the Recycling Center into the place it is today. He said Dennison played a hand in bringing in updated technology.

“He really was involved in transforming the department into a modern-day facility,” Malley said.

Dennison was married, and had two sons and a daughter. Malley said his loss will be felt by the entire town.

“It’s a very tough loss because of the personal connection to the Recycling Center and the road being named after him and the deep ties with the community,” Malley said.

Visiting hours for Dennison are 4-7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 28,  at Hobbs Funeral Home, 230 Cottage Road, South Portland. A funeral service will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 29, also at Hobbs. Interment will be at Riverside Cemetery in Cape Elizabeth.

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

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.