ELLSWORTH, Maine — A Hampden man pleaded guilty and was sentenced Tuesday to serve 5½ years in prison for a head-on vehicle crash last year that killed two young undocumented immigration activists.
Jon J. Dow, 25, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Hancock County Superior Court to single counts of manslaughter, aggravated criminal operating a motor vehicle under the influence of intoxicants and reckless conduct. He received an overall sentence of 13 years for the manslaughter conviction with five-year concurrent sentences for the aggravated criminal OUI and reckless conduct convictions.
Justice Ann Murray ordered Dow to pay more than $6,000 in fines and restitution, to serve four years of probation upon his release from prison, and to get substance abuse counseling. Dow’s driver’s license also was suspended for 10 years.
The women who died in the May 15, 2010, collision, Tam Ngoc Tran, 27, and Cinthya Nathalie Felix Perez, 26, both were undocumented immigrants who had graduated from University of California, Los Angeles, and were pursuing graduate studies at Ivy League schools. Tran was enrolled at Brown University in Providence, R.I., and Perez at Columbia University in New York City.
Both were passengers in a 2002 Toyota driven by Heather Lee, then 28, of Providence. According to police, they were headed south on Route 3 toward Mount Desert Island when Dow’s 2000 Ford pickup truck crossed the centerline of the highway and struck the Toyota head-on around 1 a.m.
Perez died at the accident scene and Tran died at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor after being flown there from the accident scene by LifeFlight helicopter.
Hancock County District Attorney Carletta Bassano, the prosecutor in Dow’s case, was out of the office Wednesday afternoon and unavailable to comment about the Hampden man’s conviction and sentence.
Dow’s defense attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor, said Wednesday that the accident happened after his client had finished a shift waiting tables at the Fish House Grill in Bar Harbor and then gone out to have drinks with friends. Dow was on his way home when the accident occurred, he said.
“He misjudged the extent to which he induced alcohol into his system,” Silverstein said. “It appears he passed out on the way [home].”
The defense attorney said his client was by all accounts leading a responsible and hardworking life at the time of the accident. Besides waiting tables in Bar Harbor, Silverstein said, Dow had his own property management and house-painting businesses and was taking classes at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor.
“No one would have ever imagined a guy like him would become a convicted felon,” SIlverstein said. “You cannot stereotype who will find themselves in this position.”
Dow has felt so remorseful about the accident, Silverstein said, that he took it upon himself to try to educate others about the dangers of drinking and driving. He has gone to speak to driver’s education and high school groups about what happened on the day of the accident and produced a video of his talk that he has distributed to 25 high schools in the area.
Silverstein said that in all his years of representing clients in homicide cases, in which someone is prosecuted for causing someone else’s death, he has never had a client who has done so much to try to create something positive out of a bad situation. Some have offered to talk to student groups, he said, but never has a client gone out and done it before their case was decided.
“He took it upon himself to make it happen,” Silverstein said. “This [case] stands out above and beyond all of them in terms of acceptance of responsibility and showing remorse.”
According to officials at universities attended by Tran and Perez, the women were known to be advocates for young undocumented immigrants like themselves who want to pursue college educations.
Tran, who was born in Germany and whose parents are from Vietnam, had testified before Congress in 2007 in favor of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, also known as the DREAM Act, which was aimed at helping undocumented immigrants under the age of 18 attain citizenship through college-level educational achievement or through education and military service, according to the Boston Globe.
Perez reportedly was the first undocumented student admitted to Columbia’s School of Public Health. The Boston Globe has reported that Perez moved with her family to the U.S. from Sinaloa, Mexico, when she was 15 years old.
Dow was indicted last December by a Hancock County grand jury on two charges each of manslaughter and aggravated criminal OUI and on one count of aggravated assault. As part of his plea on Tuesday, one count each of manslaughter and aggravated criminal OUI and the count of aggravated assault were dismissed.
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