LINCOLN, Maine — As Tennessee truck driver Brian Steven Isdell lay dying in a downtown parking lot, the town had only one police officer on patrol and a surveillance video camera that could have taped what happened to Isdell was not recording.
Those facts and a former Town Council member’s sharp criticism of police handling of drug and teen loitering problems in the parking lot came up at a council meeting on Monday night.
Before discussing ways to improve safety in the parking lot, councilors voted 6-0 to have Fire Chief Phil Dawson fill in for Police Chief William Flagg, who announced on Aug. 11 he was resigning his post effective today to return to the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department.
The issues the councilors and Dawson discussed Monday night predated the heart attack Isdell suffered immediately after his violent confrontation around 3 a.m. on Aug. 20 with two town teens.
But to former Town Councilor James Libby, that was precisely the point. Police should have cleaned up the problems in the parking lot, Libby said, long before Isdell died there. The two teens, who identified themselves Saturday as Justin Pete, 18, and Steve Osnoe, 19, said the trucker tried to buy marijuana from them before Pete and Isdell exchanged punches.
But the teens said Isdell was still standing and screaming at them when they left the parking lot.
“The incident that happened could have been prevented had they [police] been doing their job,” Libby said Monday.
For many years, Libby said, police and councilors have known that cocaine and marijuana usage and dealing, teen loitering and other problems occur in the parking lot, which borders Lake, Mechanic and Main streets, yet they never stopped it.
“They have to clean the area out and give it back to the citizens,” Libby said. “These teenagers don’t deserve the whole town.”
Police Officer Patty McLaughlin found Isdell collapsed in the lot about seven minutes after the truck pulled in. It was parked at Mechanic and Main streets on the opposite side of the football-field-sized lot with its motor running and lights on. Isdell was pronounced dead at Penobscot Valley Hospital of Lincoln shortly after the confrontation.
Isdell’s death and reports of the confrontation with the teens led local and state police to seal off the entire Mechanic and Lake streets block for most of Thursday morning as they investigated. An autopsy conducted Friday showed that Isdell died of natural causes brought on by heart disease.
The state medical examiner’s ruling precludes homicide charges, but police will meet at the Penobscot County District Attorney’s Office in Bangor this week to see whether lesser charges should be applied. Police would not specify the possible charges, but the teens said they promised to help Isdell buy marijuana and that Pete fought with him after they had taken a carton of cigarettes from his truck. They also took the trucker’s cell phone.
No arrest or meeting had occurred as of Monday, police said.
Flagg, who did not attend Monday’s council meeting, and Isdell’s brother have said that police have done an excellent job investigating the incident.
Councilor Thora House agreed with Libby that Isdell’s death had deeply frightened residents of this Penobscot County town, which has a population of 5,200 and is located about an hour north of Bangor via Interstate 95.
“Lincoln is much less safe now than I thought it was a week ago,” House said. “People have bought guns [to protect themselves] since this happened … I don’t think we can turn a blind eye.”
Libby said the town needed to enforce its rule requiring police to live within 15 miles of town. Given that almost all town police live outside of town, McLaughlin would have had no help nearby if threatened during the incident, he said.
The Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department and Maine State Police also patrol through town.
A retired state police officer, Councilor Rod Carr said the council has discussed the drug- and loitering problems many times and found there was little they could do. Carr and Dawson said that “cleaning up” the parking lot would merely mean pushing the criminal activity elsewhere.
Police should enforce the law regardless of convenience or circumstances, Libby said.
Council Chairman Steve Clay said generations of town teens have hung out in the parking lot without violent incidents occurring and that councilors voted in November 2007 to support the downtown video cameras to help prevent crime, but technical problems have delayed the program.
The cameras function but lack connections to computers at the Town Office where their images would be recorded. Town Manager Lisa Goodwin said she would have several options regarding the video cameras for councilors to consider at their next meeting on Sept. 10.
Councilors also asked to have Goodwin bring optional residency rule changes to the next council meeting.