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Details sought after police cruiser kills man lying in road

Incident occurred during predawn chase

Garrett Gagne was struck by a police cruiser on Crowell Road in an area that police said lacks both street lights and ambient light from nearby buildings.
Garrett Gagne was struck by a police cruiser on Crowell Road in an area that police said lacks both street lights and ambient light from nearby buildings.STEVE HAINES FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE/Globe Freelance

A college lacrosse player and state champion in ski racing was struck and killed by a police car early Thursday morning when he was apparently lying in the middle of an unlit road in Chatham, police said.

The officer was responding to a burglary call when his cruiser struck Garrett Gagne, 22, of Longmeadow, who had spent the night drinking with friends to celebrate New Year’s Eve, said Chatham Police Chief Mark R. Pawlina in a phone interview.

Gagne visited several locations during the evening, but at some point became separated from his friends and ended up prone in the center of the southbound lane of Crowell Road, Pawlina said.

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“We do know they were drinking alcohol, but to what extent, we couldn’t say at this point,” said Pawlina, who added that Gagne’s friends have been cooperating with police.

Gagne was one of four people who died in car crashes in the area on Thursday. Two died on the Massachusetts Turnpike in Westborough, and a 17-year-old was killed in Rockland.

Family and friends of Gagne, who was a senior at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., were devastated.

Many gathered at the family’s home in Longmeadow to express their grief for a young man who was known as much for his academic prowess as for his athleticism. In high school, the student-athlete maintained a spot on the honor roll while scoring game-winning goals as an attacker on his lacrosse team and twice winning slalom competitions to be named the fastest skier his age in Massachusetts.

At the family’s brick Colonial, which remained decorated with Christmas wreaths on Thursday night, relatives declined to be interviewed. But several friends reached by phone and online said they were in shock.

“Garrett was the guy at St. Lawrence who everyone was friends with,” said Chelsea Milsap, 22, a senior at the university, who described herself in a phone call as one of Gagne’s closest friends. “I’ve never seen him unhappy. He always had a smile on his face. He really lit up the room.”

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She added that the circumstances of his death were puzzling to her.

“He was an athlete and took really good care of himself,” she said. “It wasn’t like him to drink too much or to be by himself. The whole thing is very bizarre.”

Pawlina declined to release the name of the police officer. The chief described him as a younger patrolman with a little more than two years on the force.

He said the officer was responding to a burglary alarm at a nearby business, traveling in an “expedited” fashion. He said it was unclear whether the officer exceeded the 30 miles per hour speed limit, but he said that wouldn’t have been unreasonable, given the call.

The officer stopped as soon as he realized he had hit something shortly after 4 a.m., the chief said, adding that the stretch of road lacks street lights or ambient light from nearby buildings.

The officer called for assistance and sought to help Gagne, who was transported to Cape Cod Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead, police said.

Pawlina said the officer, who was driving the police version of a Ford Explorer, was shaken up but uninjured. The officer will remain on leave for at least several shifts.

His name will be released Friday, Pawlina said.

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“This is just so tragic for everyone involved,” he said. “Our heart goes out to the young man’s family and to the young officer who was involved.”

Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe said it was unclear how Gagne ended up in the middle of the road. The State Police Crash Reconstruction Team and the Massachusetts detective division from his office are investigating.

“We’re letting the investigation proceed,” O’Keefe said.

Garrett Gagne
Garrett GagneSt. Lawrence University

Gagne’s death shook St. Lawrence University, a small school with about 600 students at each class level. A government major and a star on the lacrosse team, Gagne was well known.

In a letter to students and faculty, William L. Fox, the university’s president, said he was writing with “profound sadness” to share the news of Gagne’s death.

“When Mike Mahoney, Garrett’s lacrosse coach, contacted me this morning, he told me ‘Garrett was close to all of us on the team — a leader, mentor, and friend,’ ” Fox wrote. “ ‘His smile and enthusiasm were contagious. He could light up the field and sidelines with his personality. This sudden and shocking loss touches every one of us who knew him as one of our best.’ ”

He called Gagne “an accomplished athlete and fine student,” noting the senior also worked on the game management crew for the football team.

In high school, Gagne — one of four boys in his family — served as captain of the lacrosse and ski racing teams at Longmeadow High School, where he was a three-time All-Scholastic honoree, the lacrosse team’s offensive player of the year, and a two-time state champion in ski racing.

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Glenn Olson, the head ski coach at the high school, said he coached all the Gagne boys and described Garrett as a naturally gifted athlete.

He learned skiing from a young age from his father, Chris, whom Olson coached with at the now-closed Mt. Tom.

“I would say that he was so good at skiing that I wanted to be like him,” Olson, 45, said from his home in Agawam in a telephone interview Thursday night.

On a memorial Web page the university set up for Gagne, Mark W. MacWilliams, a professor of religious studies, described his former student as “the best of the scholar athletes at our university.”

He called Gagne “friendly, personable, a hard worker.”

In a Facebook message sent to the Globe, Ali Visconti, 22, also a senior at St. Lawrence, said she exchanged text messages with Gagne a few hours before he died in which they wished each other a happy New Year.

“Garrett is someone that can not be defined by words, because they just don’t suffice for the amazing person he was,” she wrote.

He was always looking out for her, she said.

“He wanted to make people smile and make them happy,” she said. “He was deeply rooted with passion and care.”

She added: “Going back to school this year won’t be the same without him and his beautiful, competitive spirit.”

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A memorial was set up for Garrett Gagne in Chatham near the accident site.
A memorial was set up for Garrett Gagne in Chatham near the accident site. Steve Haines for The Boston Globe/Boston Globe

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel. Katherine McCabe and Maria Sacchetti of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Aneri Pattini contributed to this report.