ELLSWORTH, Maine — A local man was sentenced Tuesday to serve a year behind bars for a July 2010 accident that resulted in serious, permanent injuries for a New Gloucester man.
Patrick K. Bellis, 27, was indicted months later on charges of aggravated criminal operating a motor vehicle under the influence of intoxicants, aggravated assault and reckless conduct as result of the July 4, 2010, accident on Route 1 in Hancock.
Severely injured in the accident was Andrew Leonard, 40, who was driving a 2005 Suzuki motorcycle. Leonard now uses a wheelchair, having had his left leg amputated and lost the use of his left arm.
The Hancock County District Attorney’s Office and Bellis’ attorney, Wayne Foote of Bangor, reached a plea agreement in which Bellis would receive an overall sentence of four years, with two years probation, and would have to serve no more than 18 months behind bars, provided he does not violate his probation after he is released. Bellis does not have a prior criminal record.
In keeping with the plea agreement, Justice Ann Murray ordered Bellis to serve one year behind bars. Aside from the two-year probation term upon his release, Bellis also will have to pay a $2,100 fine, perform 100 hours of community service and have his license suspended for six years.
Leonard attended Tuesday’s sentencing but chose not to address the court.
His wife, Susan Leonard, did read a prepared statement during the proceeding. She said her husband used to be an avid outdoorsman but now has to sleep in a hospital bed in their living room because his wheelchair doesn’t fit through their bedroom doorway.
“He’s had multiple surgeries the past two years since the accident,” she said. “He [now] has to pre-think how to do everything.”
Leonard had to pause as she spoke as she became emotional. She said her husband has nightmares and flashbacks and suffers from pain, depression and memory loss.
“Mr. Bellis chose to drink and drive,” she said. “Andy didn’t choose [his fate].”
Foote told Murray that the “bitter irony” of the incident is that Bellis was known to advise his friends and others against drinking and driving. The accident happened the morning of July 4, 2010, after Bellis had been drinking with friends the night before. He stayed the night where the party had taken place, Foote said, slept for eight hours, and then drove off the next morning, thinking he was OK to get behind the wheel.
“When he got up the next morning, he didn’t feel impaired,” Foote told the judge. “He thought he was doing the right thing by sleeping for eight hours. Clearly, he did the wrong thing.”
The accident happened, Foote said, when his client leaned over to grab some potato chips from the passenger side of the car and the vehicle drifted into the eastbound lane. Bellis was administered a breath-alcohol test by a state police trooper who responded to the accident and blew a 0.18 percent, Foote said.
Foote told the judge his client is willing to speak to high school and college students about his experience and about the dangers of drinking and driving.
Bellis also addressed the court, saying he was at fault for what had happened.
“I understand you’re angry,” Bellis said. “No one deserves what happened to you. I am sorry for any emotional pain that I have caused.”
Murray said Bellis’ high blood-alcohol content at the time of the accident, Leonard’s injuries and the permanent effect they will have on him and his wife were serious aggravating factors she had to consider. But she said she also had to recognize that Bellis has acknowledged full responsibility for what he did and taken steps to make sure it won’t happen again. Bellis took it upon himself to receive treatment for binge drinking following the accident and has not consumed any alcohol since it occurred, she noted. These actions and his lack of a criminal record, the judge said, are good indicators that he is not likely to commit criminal behavior again.
“[He] is exactly where the blame has to lie and I think he has accepted that,” Murray said.
After the sentencing, Bellis was allowed to hug his parents in the courtroom before he was led away to start serving his sentence.
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.