ELLSWORTH, Maine — A Bucksport man accused of causing a four-car accident that seriously injured a Trenton woman last year pleaded guilty Monday in Hancock County Superior Court to a charge of reckless conduct.
Joseph L. Hills, 41, was facing charges of driving to endanger, reckless conduct, aggravated assault and operating a motor vehicle after suspension in connection with the June 2007 crash, which happened in Trenton. He was blamed for the crash by passing another vehicle in a no-passing zone and for colliding head-on with an-other car in the oncoming lane of traffic.
Hills pleaded guilty Monday to reckless conduct, a Class C felony, and to driving to endanger, a Class E misdemeanor. With the felony Class C conviction, Hills could serve up to five years in prison, according to attorneys involved in the case.
Hills’ attorney, Jeffrey Toothaker of Ellsworth, said his client agreed to plead guilty because of the “what-ifs” the case presented. Had Hills been convicted of the Class B aggravated assault charge, he could have faced up to 10 years behind bars.
“What if he was convicted?” Toothaker said. “He was scared.”
Toothaker said Hills had been driving about 55 mph and was in a passing zone when he first pulled out to pass. Hills may have shown poor judgment but was having difficulty passing the car in front of him, which suggested that Hills may not be the only one to blame, the defense attorney said.
“Clearly, Mr. Hills was not the only cause of this accident,” Toothaker said.
Carletta Bassano, deputy district attorney for Hancock County, said the state had been seeking a felony conviction for Hills because of the severity of the crash. Cheryle Dyer, who was driving the Subaru that Hills struck head-on, is still having difficulties with an injury she suffered in the crash, Bassano said.
“She was hurt badly,” the prosecutor said. “Her ankle was crushed.”
Hills and the other drivers suffered less serious injuries, police said at the time of the crash. Hills is expected to be sentenced within the next couple of weeks.
The accident occurred June 22, 2007, as Hills was headed north on Route 230 in Trenton, known locally as Bayside Road.
According to police, Hills was driving a 1999 Volkswagen when he pulled into the southbound lane to pass a 1999 Ford driven by Tanya Gilley, 21, of Dedham. As the cars crested a small hill, Hills’ Volkswagen smashed head-on into a southbound 1997 Subaru driven by Dyer, 55, of Trenton.
The force of the impact knocked Hills’ car into Gilley’s Ford. A 1991 Volvo, driven by Emily O’Connell, 22, of Hampden, was traveling south behind Dyer’s vehicle and rear-ended the Subaru as part of the chain-reaction collision.
Dyer was taken first to Maine Coast Memorial Hospital in Ellsworth and then to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. Gilley’s Taurus, which had an estimated $2,000 in damage, was the only vehicle in the crash that was not demolished.