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Bryan MacFarlane, victim in Maine mass shooting, was 1st deaf person to earn CDL in Vermont

Bryan MacFarlane and his sister Keri Brooks
Courtesy photo
Bryan MacFarlane and his sister Keri Brooks.

Bryan MacFarlane, 40, was one of four members of the state's Deaf community who had come to play cornhole last Wednesday night at Schemengees in Lewiston and were killed in the shootings. He had worked for years as a trucker — a career laden with obstacles for deaf people — and had only recently moved back to Maine at the urging of family.

Keri Brooks says it wasn't surprising that her brother became a trucker. She remembers MacFarlane playing with matchbox cars and trucks as a kids.

"He would create elaborate scenarios using them. It is no surprise that he obtained his CDL," said Brooks, who is also deaf, in a series of text messages. "I would have to say my fondest memory is going to hockey games with our dad, seeing the Portland Pirates play as well as the Boston Bruins. The three of us loved hockey."

Brooks said that the family moved to Maine from Louisiana when he was only two years old. His mother would later remarry, which brought Bryan and his sister under the same roof with two new step-siblings.

"And he really was the brother that I never had," said MacFarlane's stepbrother, Tony Randazzo.

Keri Brooks and Bryan MacFarlane
Keri Brooks and Bryan MacFarlane

At first, Randazzo said, the two struggled to communicate because of Bryan's deafness. But Randazzo said they connected by exploring the city of Portland, venturing out into forests and other nooks.

"And he would often say to me, 'Hey, come here.' We'd hop on the bikes," Randazzo said. "We'd go off into — we lived right next to Baxter Woods, we'd go in there. He'd show me something in there. Then we'd cross Stevens Avenue onto Evergreen Cemetery, we'd explore that. And sometimes, we'd go to places where even I don't know where they are to this day."

Family members said Bryan left Maine in his 20s for Vermont, where his sister and mom were living. It was there that he completed what he described as one of his greatest life achievements: obtaining his commercial drivers' license.

Federal agencies require a hearing test in order to receive a CDL. But rules were changed about a decade ago, allowing drivers who are deaf or hard of hearing to receive a waiver.

Keri Brooks said many driving schools refused to accept deaf students, but Bryan pressed on. A truck driving school owner agreed to accept him, and an interpreter was provided to assist him with the training. After a lot of work — and the help of vocational rehab — Brooks said her brother became the first deaf person in Vermont to receive a commercial drivers' license.

Randazzo said it was a point of pride for Bryan and the whole family.

"And, that's what he wanted to do, and I was so proud when he became a truck driver. And I heard that he was the first deaf truck driver to get a CDL in Vermont," Randazzo said. "And I was just so proud of him. And somewhat jealous. Because in a way, I'd kind of love to be a truck driver, and see the world, you know? I was so happy for him that he did that."

Bryan MacFarlane
Courtesy photo
Bryan MacFarlane

MacFarlane worked for several different trucking companies, and moved back to Maine this summer, with the encouragement of his family.

"And he jumped at that opportunity and came up here and met, got plugged into the Deaf community right away," Randazzo said. "Where he did the weekly cornhole tournaments at Schemengees. And he was on his way to the next step in his life and his career."

Brooks said her brother was an avid outdoorsman, "riding his motorcycle, camping in his trailer, snowmobiling, fishing, RC racing (he won 1st place at one such event), hanging out with Deaf friends, and especially loved his dog named M&M (his favorite candy)." The dog often even joined MacFarlane inside his truck.

Randazzo said the safety, family and community in Maine was part of why family encouraged Bryan to come back to the state, making his death at Schemengees in last week's shooting even more difficult to process.

"We told him, he was going to have a great life in Maine, and this is a safe place for him to come," Randazzo said. "And for that to happen, it's like we lied to him, in a sense.

"But how could anything like this have been predicted? How can you imagine something like this would happen? You know, what should be a safe place to play a game with friends, and to connect with friends, and one of the safest cities in the country, in the world. And no one can even imagine that this person is going to choose that bar, at this place and this date."

In the wake of the tragedy, MacFarlane's family is raising money — to help cover expenses, but also to create a scholarship in MacFarlane's name for a deaf student who wants to pursue a career in the trades.

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