BELFAST, Maine — Medway businessman James B. Lee has been placed under house arrest for violating bail while awaiting trial for manslaughter.
Lee, 44, who had been in jail since he was arrested on the charge three weeks ago after being seen behind the controls of a road grader, learned of his fate when he appeared Thursday before Justice Jeffrey Hjelm in Waldo County Superior Court.
At the time of his arrest, Lee had been free on $100,000 surety bail after being charged in the death of employee William Russell, 28, of Medway in a pickup truck crash that occurred on Sept. 22, 2008, in Monroe.
Two other passengers riding with Lee also were injured in the accident. William York, now 38 of Medway, suffered a broken back and Chad Brackett, now 31 and also of Medway, suffered cuts and bruises. Lee had a broken collarbone. Police reports indicated that Lee was traveling about 74 mph when his pickup left the road and rolled over. The speed limit on the section of Monroe Road is 45 mph.
Conditions of his bail prohibited Lee from operating motor vehicles or construction equipment.
Lee was arrested by East Millinocket police Friday, Oct. 16, after he was seen operating a road grader on Hathaway Road.
Justice Hjelm reached his decision after hearing testimony from the woman who reported that Lee had operated the grader that day and from Lee and members of his family who testified that it was his son who was behind the wheel.
Despite the conflicting testimony, Hjelm determined there was enough “probable cause” to find that Lee had violated his conditions of release.
Hjelm explained that probable cause was “one of the lowest levels of proof” that exists in the legal system and does not need to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Under Maine law probable cause is necessary to obtain a search or arrest warrant but is not considered proof of guilt.
Hjelm emphasized that if he had been asked to make is decision on a higher level of proof, “I’m not sure I could do that.”
Hjelm found that the testimony of witness Barbara Gayle Skipper suggested that Lee was behind the wheel of the grader. He also noted that both Lee, his brother Jeff Lee and his son Ryan Lee testified that Lee was riding in the grader when Skipper drove by.
“All agree he was in the grader,” Hjelm said.
Skipper testified that Lee was behind the controls of the grader when she went by and lifted his arm to shield his face from view when he saw her approach. Lee testified that his son was operating the grader and that he was standing to the left when Skipper drove past. He said his arm was raised because he was holding onto a “grab handle” to maintain his balance while his son graded the road.
Lee said he had been called to the job site because the grader’s computer system was causing problems. He said he was advising his son how to fix it when Skipper drove past.
When asked by Waldo County Deputy District Attorney Eric Walker if he operated the grader that day, Lee answered, “No.”
Whether he was actually driving or not, Justice Hjelm said he found it troubling that Lee would even consider putting himself in such a situation.
Hjelm noted Lee was aware that Jeff Lee and another Emory Lee & Sons employee had been stopped by police on more than one occasion after being mistaken for Lee while operating company trucks.
The knowledge that people in the close-knit, rural community had called the police after thinking other drivers were him should have been enough to convince Lee not to place himself in jeopardy.
“He put himself, at the very least, in a vulnerable position,” Hjelm said.
Although Walker requested that Hjelm revoke Lee’s bail and keep him in jail until his trial sometime next year, Hjelm placed him under house arrest.
Hjelm told Lee that the only time he could leave home would be for appearances in court, for meetings with his attorneys or for medical appointments. Hjelm advised Lee that he would have to present himself to police the moment they knocked on his door.
“If he is not there, he will have to show why he is not present,” Hjelm warned.