MEDWAY, Maine — A former town selectman facing trial for a fatal 2008 truck accident was being held in Penobscot County Jail in Bangor without bail Sunday after witnesses reported seeing him driving a road grader.
James Lee, 44, of Medway was charged Friday with violation of his bail conditions, East Millinocket police Officer Cameron McDunnah said Saturday. Lee is due in Superior Court in Bangor on Monday, Police Chief Garold “Twig” Cramp said.
Lee, who has a long history of driving violations, has not been allowed to drive since he was released on $50,000 bail after being charged with manslaughter and aggravated driving to endanger in connection with a Sept. 22, 2008, accident in which 28-year-old William Russell of Medway was killed and three others injured, in-cluding himself, Cramp said.
“His bail says he can’t operate anything, anything with a motor, anywhere, and that includes a piece of heavy equipment,” Cramp said Saturday.
Lee’s construction company was grading a dirt portion of Hathaway Road when witnesses reported seeing Lee operating the grader at about 3 p.m. Friday. One of them telephoned Donna Russell, William Russell’s mother, and reported what she saw, Russell and Cramp said.
“I told her, ‘Well, it doesn’t do any good to tell me if you don’t tell the cops,’” Russell said Saturday.
The woman told Russell that she had known all of the work crew since they were boys and recognized Lee driving the grader, Russell said. The woman drove by him twice. When their eyes met, Lee threw his arm over his face, Russell said.
When confronted by McDunnah, Lee denied driving the grader, Cramp said.
“They are saying that his boy Brian was the one that was driving,” Russell said of Lee. “Well, we will see.”
On Cramp’s instructions, McDunnah telephoned Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy for instructions. Almy told him that the witness’s sworn statements provided enough probable cause for an arrest, Cramp said.
Lee will be held at the county jail until today, when he is due to appear in Superior Court in Bangor, Cramp said. A spokesman at the jail said Lee’s paperwork indicated that he would go to Millinocket District Court, but the spokesman said that might be incorrect.
Lee might already be in prison had Superior Court Justice Jeffrey Hjelm accepted a plea agreement regarding the fatal accident that was negotiated by Lee’s lawyer and prosecutors on Sept. 29.
Lee had agreed to plead guilty to the manslaughter and aggravated driving charges in exchange for a 12-year sentence with all but four years suspended. But Hjelm rejected the plea, stating that a 10-year sentence with all but six years suspended would be more appropriate.
According to the police accident report, the 2004 Chevy Silverado was traveling about 74 mph when it went off a curving rural road in Monroe that had a speed limit of 45 mph. Lee’s driving record says he had 36 traffic violations from 1986 to 2008, including 25 for speeding, which Hjelm cited as among his reasons for reject-ing the four-year prison sentence.
Russell died instantly when the truck slammed into two trees and rolled over. William York, now 38, of Medway, suffered a broken back in the accident, and Chad Brackett, now 31, also of Medway, suffered cuts to his right arm. Lee suffered a broken collarbone.
Because of his rejection of the plea agreement, Hjelm was obliged to allow Lee to withdraw his guilty plea, and Lee did, though he also could have accepted the six years, the prosecutor has said. The case is now due to go to trial next year.
If found guilty of the manslaughter and reckless driving charges, Lee could face up to 35 years in prison.
In Lee’s defense, 32 letters were written describing his character in glowing terms or citing his civic service as a business owner or 10-year member of the Board of Selectmen. The letters described him as a hardworking, caring man who grieved deeply about the accident.
Lee, who expressed deep remorse for the accident in court, has otherwise declined to comment since the accident occurred.
Russell hasn’t been so silent, having said previously that she believes, but has no proof, that Lee had flouted his bail conditions before.
“I have had three or four different people say that they seen him [driving], but nobody goes as far as to tell the cops,” Russell said.