BOXFORD, Mass. — State police Capt. Richard "Rick" Cashin was killed yesterday while responding to a call about an erratic driver who was later determined to be text messaging while driving.
Cashin, 52, of Boxford, died around 1:45 a.m., when his unmarked Ford Crown Victoria hit a utility pole on Route 1 north in Saugus. He was responding to a call from Saugus police to help catch the erratic driver, Saugus Lt. Michael Annese said.
The local officers stopped the car and discovered the driver was a distraught woman who'd been text messaging after a fight with her boyfriend. They never cited her because, moments later, they heard Cashin had crashed and rushed to his aid.
"He tried to get to (the erratic driver), to try to back up the officers, and lost control" of the cruiser, Annese said.
Cashin was pronounced dead at the scene.
State police said they did not know why Cashin was on Route 1 at the time, but noted he had broad responsibilities as night shift commander.
"As part of his duties, he is to inspect the six barracks within the A Troop area," Sgt. David Mehan said.
Investigators are trying to figure out what caused the crash, which happened before yesterday's snowstorm.
State police said Cashin may have been the highest-ranking officer from their agency to have been killed in the line of duty.
"Being a captain, out there stopping cars, he's really something," said Annese, who described Cashin as "a nice man, a good cop."
Cashin is survived by his wife, Caroline, and four children ages 9 to 25: Katie, Julie, Thomas and Matthew.
"He was the best. He was an angel," said daughter Julie, 24.
A past president of the Boxford Athletic Association, Cashin was the kind of man who would mow a baseball field before he touched his own yard, said friend Howie Emmons. As the director of the town beach at Stiles Pond for about the last eight years, Cashin made sure everything was in perfect shape.
Fellow lacrosse coaches said he was at every practice to help his own children, as well as youths from Boxford, Middleton and Topsfield.
Cashin helped lead his town toward an overwhelming vote to buy the Haynes land, which could provide athletic fields.
His professional and private lives rarely crossed, but they did one night in May 2006. Friend Richard Koster's son Keith, 20, was killed trying to stop a thief from stealing his SUV from a parking lot on Route 114 in Danvers. Cashin, who'd known Keith almost since birth, notified the family.
"He was the one who called me," Richard Koster said yesterday. "He was the one who met me at the airport. He's been a good supporter of the (Keith Koster) fund and in keeping Keith's memory alive."
Yesterday, Koster got another call, at 6 a.m., telling him about his friend's death.
"You couldn't ask for a better person," Koster said. "A very good athlete, a very good family man, just a big heart and a good person. He was the nicest guy you could meet."
Cashin made an impact professionally, too. In 2006, he was commended for helping a Malden police officer interview two home invasion suspects. One of those men reached for a gun, and Cashin subdued the suspect while the other officer gained control of the gun, state police said.
His volunteer work in Boxford wasn't life-and-death, but it made a difference, said Mark Mscisz, a Tribal Lacrosse coach who worked with Cashin on Tuesday night. Cashin coached one of his son's teams, probably leaving only when he had to go to his night shift with the state police.
Emmons, who worked for years with Cashin on the Boxford Athletic Association and the Haynes Land Committee, said Cashin advocated the purchase of the Haynes land so generations of kids could have more places to play sports.
"There's nothing I can say that can do justice to the person that Rick was," Emmons said.
Brian Rossano, another Tribal Lacrosse coach, said Cashin's dedication could not be overstated.
"I coached with him for probably five years and he never missed a practice," Rossano said. "He loved the kids that he coached. ... His kids and his family came before anything."
Paula Fitzsimmons, president of the Boxford Athletic Association, pondered Cashin's devotion.
"I don't know how he found the energy, but he did," she said. "And what he chose to do, he did 100 percent."
Fitzsimmons said Cashin — who stood perhaps 6 feet 5 inches or 6 feet 6 inches — always made an impression.
"He never made a big deal about either his height or his profession, but had a presence in the room," she said. "He knew he could be in charge and in control of any situation that came up. Even though I never really saw him doing his work job, that's the feeling you got when you were around him."
In a statement, Boxford selectmen said Cashin's legacy "will be measured by the hundreds of student athletes encouraged, supported and cheered on by his selfless dedication."