Veazie police officer lauded for saving UMaine chemistry student’s life

University of Maine chemistry student Bryer Sousa works in the lab with Barbara Stewart, a UMaine chemistry professor.

Courtesy of University of Maine
University of Maine chemistry student Bryer Sousa works in the lab with Barbara Stewart, a UMaine chemistry professor.

By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff
Posted April 16, 2014, at 1:16 p.m. Last modified April 17, 2014, at 9:03 a.m.

VEAZIE, Maine — Had it not been for a Veazie police officer, a promising University of Maine chemistry student likely would not have lived to see finals, not to mention graduation day.

Officer Matthew Parkhurst was on routine patrol about 1 a.m. April 4, when he noticed the taillights of a running vehicle parked in the Qualey Granite and Quartz parking lot on State Street, Sgt. Brian Nichols of the Veazie Police Department said.

Realizing that he had seen the same vehicle while conducting business checks two hours before, Parkhurst stopped to check up on the driver, Nichols said. Parkhurst quickly determined that the driver was not under the influence of drugs and alcohol but rather was suffering from a life-threatening medical emergency, the sergeant noted.

Parkhurst called for an ambulance, and the 19-year-old driver, UMaine student Bryer Sousa, was immediately taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center. He was treated for acute carbon monoxide poisoning, which Veazie police determined was the result of a mechanical malfunction that arose after Sousa dropped a friend off.

Sousa could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

“Due to Officer Parkhurst’s vigilant actions that night, the life of a promising young chemistry student at the University of Maine was preserved, and a tragic accident was averted,” Police Chief Mark Leonard said in his letter of commendation.

“Officer Parkhurst’s exceptional situational awareness, diligence and dedication to patrol reflect credit upon himself and the Veazie Police Department.”

Sousa, who is from Amesbury, Mass., was the recipient last year of a $10,000 Projects for Peace grant from the Davis Foundation that enabled a team of students and adult leaders, some of whom were UMaine scientists and engineers, to bring clean drinking water to more than 50 homes in the impoverished Trojes region of Honduras.

The project aimed to bring relief to the families of the Trojes region, as well as provide Sousa, who is pursuing a double major in chemistry and physics with a minor in mathematics, data for his research at UMaine focused on creating a more sustainable water-filtration system in underdeveloped countries through the use of nanofibrillated cellulose, according to a published report.

“Your saving him and others [has] a rippled effect on the rest of the world. He has so much more to do in his lifetime journey,” the student’s mother, Raylene Sousa, said in a letter to Parkhurst. “I have always called my son, my hero. Now I have two ‘sons’ I am proud of. Be safe and stay true.”

Sousa’s grandparents, Carol and George Casey, also wrote to the officer.

“Without your alertness to and action taken when you observed an auto parked with its motor running in a construction yard … we may have lost our oldest grandson, Bryer Sousa. There are no words that will fully express our gratitude for the actions taken by you in his behalf. We pray all the time for Bryer’s safety. You truly were his guardian angel that morning,” Sousa’s grandparents said.

According to the Veazie Police Department’s website, Parkhurst is a former Penobscot Regional Communications Center dispatcher and a graduate of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. He also has worked for the Maine State Police and the Milo Police Department.