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Mother, 3 children killed in Maine crash mourned

Police seek clues to accident's cause

PORTLAND, Maine -- Mourners carried brightly colored teddy bears past tiny white coffins during a funeral yesterday for three children and their mother who were killed in a high-speed accident on Mother's Day.

Hope Gagnon and her children, ages 4 to 8, were killed when the sport utility vehicle troopers say she was driving careened off the highway at speeds in excess of 90 miles an hour. The accident has baffled investigators and left family pondering the possibilities surrounding the accident that killed seven people.

"We look upon life and it is a precious gift. But as we've learned very tragically, life has no time limits," the Rev. Ed Waitley said. "These are things we do not understand. These are things that break our hearts."

A woman who taught Gagnon's daughter Tkeyah, 6, sobbed as she recalled how Gagnon helped out at a recent ice cream party at the school. Tkeyah was proud and happy her mother was helping, the woman said. Gagnon, who did not have a valid driver's license, was driving a rented Ford Explorer in the breakdown lane when it clipped a car it was trying to pass 10 miles west of Bangor.

The SUV flipped and slammed into the trees on the median along Interstate 95 and landed on its roof.

Killed in the accident were Gagnon, 29, of South Portland, and her children: Deion, 8, Tkeyah and Ariana, 4; Kelley Armstrong, 28, her 4-year-old son Kristian; and Danielle St. Paulin, 29.

Separate funeral services also were held yesterday for Armstrong and her son at Riverside Cemetery in Yarmouth, and at Brooklawn Memorial Park in Portland for St. Paulin.

The crash was the deadliest on a Maine public road since seven occupants of a car were killed when it was broadsided and run over by a tractor-trailer in Richmond in 1958. The state's worst crash happened on a privately owned logging road in September 2002, when 14 migrant workers died in a bridge accident.

Family members have said the three women rented the SUV so Gagnon could rendezvous with a man she met on the Internet. The children had come along because the man, who family members believe lived near Canada, had a trampoline.

Once the funerals were completed, police planned to begin interviewing family members. Investigators had hoped to piece together the context of the accident and will examine Gagnon's computer for some indication of where the group was going.

Though family members have speculated about why Gagnon was driving at such speeds, including the possibility that her son was having an asthma attack, police have found no evidence to validate that theory.

"I don't believe we're ever going to know for sure what happened during the final moments in that car," said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety.

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