Plea deal in fatal Monroe crash angers victims

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff
Posted Sept. 27, 2009, at 9 p.m.

MEDWAY, Maine — William York used to be a very active man. An avid hunter, fisherman, four-wheeler and woodsman, the 38-year-old once drew complaints from fellow Department of Transportation workers when he worked for the DOT because they couldn’t keep up with him, his wife says.

There’s little evidence of that vitality today. A former construction worker at Emery Lee & Sons of Millinocket, York can’t move well. Pain and numbness in his hips and right leg make walking difficult. He sometimes stumbles or falls, as if his leg can’t keep up with him, and suffers from short-term memory loss.

“The doctors know something is wrong, but none of the tests they have run show an exact cause. He is just so angry,” Amy York said Thursday, “and that was not him. He was someone who would rather laugh and joke.”

That’s why she and 54-year-old Donna Russell of Medway want to see former Medway Selectman James Lee get much more than the four years imprisonment as part of a plea bargain he has been offered by prosecutors. Lee is scheduled to appear at Waldo County Superior Court in Belfast on Tuesday where he may accept the plea bargain, reject it or seek a trial.

Lee, 44, a manager at Emery Lee & Sons, was allegedly speeding home from Belfast in a company pickup truck with three company employees, including William York and Russell’s 28-year-old son, when the truck went off Monroe Road in Monroe on Sept. 22, 2008, slamming into two trees and overturning.

William Russell was killed instantly. York suffered a broken back. Chad Brackett, 31, suffered cuts to his right arm, and Lee had a broken collarbone.

Lee, who is free on $50,000 bail, has been offered a 12-year sentence with eight years suspended, meaning he faces four years imprisonment on a manslaughter charge. He also faces four years probation on a charge of aggravated driving to endanger, Waldo County District Attorney Geoffrey A. Rushlau saidlast week.

“I don’t agree with it at all,” Russell said Thursday. “I have been doing a lot of different case searching and stuff, and from everything I check out he is getting half of what he should be getting. Just the fact that he is getting his license back in five years is disgusting.”

That also disgusts York’s wife, who described Lee’s driving as a menace.

“My initial reaction is anger because in four years we won’t have William [Russell] back and my husband will probably not be the same physically, emotionally or mentally,” said York, 35. “We hope that he is, but we don’t know.”

Lee did not return a telephone message seeking comment for this story.

Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles records show that since February 2000 Lee has had 25 speeding convictions and 11 other driving convictions in Maine. He has one conviction in July 2008 for going 76 mph in a 50 mph zone.

Lee’s license has been suspended at least six times in the past 10 years, BMV records show. His most recent suspension ended Aug. 3, 2008, though his license was again suspended in the wake of the fatal accident.

According to statements Brackett made at the time, Lee, who left politics in the summer of 2008, was clearly driving too fast before the accident.

“We was cruisin’,” Brackett said in a newspaper story days after the accident. “It’s obvious he was going too fast. I said, ‘We ain’t making this corner’ and [tried to get down] on the floorboard.”

Moments later, the truck crashed on Monroe Road. Brackett said he couldn’t tell exactly how fast they were going because “the speedometer never worked.” Lee apologized to Brackett for the accident while both were hospitalized, Brackett said.

According to Trooper Jonah C. O’Roak’s accident report, the 2004 Chevy Silverado was traveling approximately 74 mph when it left the road.

“The speed [of 74 mph] which was documented in this case only indicates the speed of the truck as it traveled through the curve leading up to the crash scene,” he wrote. “It could be suspected that the speed of Lee’s truck was higher prior to entering the curve as one would typically release the accelerator once observing a sharp curve approaching.”

Rushlau declined to comment on how fast Lee was driving.

Lee should never be allowed to drive again, Amy York said.

“If he walked into a school and shot every one of these guys, he would never even be able to hold a gun again,” she said. “Why are they able to give his weapon back?”

“I could swallow that [proposed sentence] if he had some remorse, but he has walked around and he has showed no remorse for what he has done. None,” Russell said. “It was just an accident, he says.”

Rushlau, who recommended the sentence, said it carries about as much prison time as the law allows.

Maine law requires comparable sentences for comparable crimes and circumstances. Rushlau’s recommendation encompasses Lee’s driving record and is consistent with cases of manslaughter crashes where alcohol and drugs play no part, he said.

“It’s actually much harsher than most sentences that I am aware of,” Rushlau said Thursday. “There is one sentence that is harsher than this, but nonetheless I consider this a significant sentence for someone who has no criminal record where the crash is based on speed alone.”

Under state law, license suspensions run at least five years on manslaughter cases not involving drugs or alcohol. Permanent revocations can occur in cases involving alcohol or drugs, though drivers can appeal revocations in 10 years, Rushlau said.

The Maine secretary of state — not courts — revokes licenses, he said.

Russell said she plans to meet with officials at the secretary of state’s office today to seek a permanent revocation of Lee’s license.

Several Medway residents have also written letters to Justice Jeffrey L. Hjelm seeking less or no prison time for Lee, Rushlau said. Copies were unavailable this week.

York, whose husband declined to comment on the accident, said she hoped that Waldo County would be tougher on Lee.

“Our hopes were that since this didn’t happen here, maybe something would change,” York said. “Maybe they [authorities] would understand that these were people who had lives.”

The Yorks and Russell claim they have seen Lee drive since the accident.

Rushlau said he is unaware of any further motor vehicle charges against Lee, and if police saw Lee driving again, his license would be automatically revoked as part of the revocation of the conditions of his $50,000 bail.

The victims claim they have also felt pressure from local residents supportive of Lee and the company.

“I was approached by one woman who asked, ‘Why are you trying to destroy the one business left in town?’” York said.

Russell said she and her husband seldom venture out of their home anymore because they are still in mourning.

“My son didn’t die from cancer or a heart attack. He was completely yanked from us without a chance to even say goodbye. You are left believing that it’s not even real,” Russell said. “I look out the window every day thinking that he’s coming home for supper. It’s a hard thing to adjust to.

“I don’t leave my house more than I have to,” she added. “We have no life anymore. We mourn our son every day.”

The Russells and Yorks will be in court on Tuesday to tell their side of the accident, they said.

“We aren’t looking for sympathy. We are just trying to pick up everything and get it back together,” York said. “What can you say to the judge that is going to truly make him understand what we are going through?”

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/09/27/news/plea-deal-in-fatal-monroe-crash-angers-victims/ printed on July 28, 2014