CARIBOU, Maine — In April 2011, after six years as a foster child, 10-year-old Desiree York was officially adopted by Nathan and Kim York of Medway.
Five months later, her father was dead, and her life and those of her mother and siblings were changed forever.
It was because of the “profound loss” experienced by Nathan York’s family and Herb Young and his loved ones that the man responsible for their pain was sentenced Wednesday afternoon to serve five years in prison, fined $2,100 and ordered to pay $20,000 in restitution.
William Barton, 52, of Mars Hill was convicted of aggravated operating under the influence causing death and aggravated operating under the influence causing serious bodily injury during a jury trial in October in Aroostook County Superior Court in Caribou.
The fatal crash occurred on Sept. 3, 2011, on U.S. Route 1 in Mars Hill. His blood alcohol content was .13. The legal limit to drive in Maine is .08.
The jury deadlocked on a charge of possession of methamphetamine.
During a hearing Wednesday attended by members of the York and Young families and friends and relatives of Barton, Justice E. Allen Hunter sentenced Barton to eight years in prison with all but five years suspended on the aggravated operating under the influence causing death charge. He could have faced up to 10 years in prison on that charge alone. Barton also was ordered to serve three years on probation with numerous conditions, including that he not possess or use drugs or alcohol, that he undergo substance abuse counseling, have no contact with the families of the victims, and submit to random search and testing. His license also will be suspended for at least 10 years and he cannot operate any motorized vehicle during that time, although Deputy District Attorney Carrie Linthicum said Wednesday that the secretary of state could issue further punishment.
On the aggravated operating under the influence causing serious bodily injury charge, he was sentenced to the maximum five years in prison. He also was fined $2,100 and his license will be suspended for six years. That sentence is to be served concurrently with the first sentence.
According to court testimony, Barton spent the week prior to the accident working on a construction project in Portland. On the day of the accident, he drank beer with his lunch and took Nyquil for a cold, according to court records. He then had several more beers and took more Nyquil as he drove from Portland toward his home in Mars Hill. His attorney, Alan Harding of Presque Isle, said that Barton did not intend to hurt anyone, but he made a “cumulation of bad choices” and did not consider how the Nyquil would interact with the beer or factor in how fatigued he was from a week of work and a more than four hour drive.
Harding said that a witness during the trial testified that she did not see Barton driving erratically until his vehicle collided with the 2001 Chrysler wagon driven northbound by Jerome York, 22, of Medway. Barton’s 2010 Ford pickup struck the vehicle head on.
York’s father, Nathan, died at the scene.
Harding also pointed out that a reconstruction of the accident showed that less than three feet of Barton’s vehicle had crossed the centerline at the time of the crash.
During Wednesday’s proceedings, several members of York’s family spoke, including Jerome York and Nathan York’s brother, Barney York. Jerome York said that his father was a wonderful man who would give anyone the “shirt off his back.” He was a devoted father, husband and friend who attended all of his four children’s events and instilled in them a deep religious faith. His older brother, Jimmy, had just given Nathan his first grandchild a week before the crash. Nathan York only got to see the child once.
Linthicum struggled to compose herself as she read letters from Desiree York and her teenage sister, Whitney York.
Whitney York wrote that she had “never struggled to forgive anyone” until the night of the accident. She detailed how the family lost not just her father’s presence and love, but his income. They have also had to shoulder the physical and financial burden of the numerous chores he used to do around the house.
Instead of her father, it was her uncle, Barney York, who accepted a carnation from her on Senior Night at her high school, attended her graduation and took her on a trip to see the Boston Red Sox, she wrote.
Barney York said that his brother was his “best friend,” and spoke of how saddened he was to hear Desiree York say that she “finally got a daddy, but she didn’t have him for very long.”
All of the York family members said that they had forgiven Barton, just as Nathan York would have wanted, but they still wanted him to be punished for his crimes.
Gail Young, Herb Young’s wife, said that her husband suffered numerous physical injuries and a “catastrophic brain injury” in the accident. He is no longer the strong man who “loved his family and the Lord,” but a man who suffers from memory problems, needs assistance in all areas of his life, deals with substantial pain and continues to need extensive rehabilitation.
She said that, due to the brain injury, Young could be “screaming in our face one minute and smiling the next,” and that he sometimes thrusts his fists uncontrollably. Also, he has at times spoken of a wish to die, she said.
“My home at times feels like a prison,” Gail Young said. “It is like I am standing in a nightmare.”
Barton’s first wife, Lois Campbell Levasseur, told Hunter that her ex-husband was “a good person” and a “good dad.” His daughter, Brianna Barton, said that he was “not a bad person” and that she wanted him to find the help he needs.
Barton apologized in court to the York and Young families and to his own. He said that he had wanted to apologize to them so many times but did not know how to do it.
“I am full of remorse and have been for 14 months,” he said. “I wish I could go back in time and make changes. … I would do anything to take the place of Nathan York or Herb Young and have their outcomes be different.”
Linthicum said that Barton has 22 prior motor vehicle convictions, including for speeding and operating after revocation. He also violated bail twice over the past 14 months, once for being found in possession of marijuana and once for being in possession of beer, both of which were prohibited under his bail conditions.
Hunter acknowledged an argument by Harding that other individuals had appeared in court to face OUI charges with blood alcohol contents higher than Barton’s, but they had left with fines and license suspensions because they did not cause an accident. And while Hunter also recognized Barton’s public apology, he did not feel he had taken responsibility for his actions. He said that Barton had “ample” time to reflect on his actions that day and to pull over to the side of the road. He also had chances to stop drinking and taking cold medication. Hunter also said that Barton only began getting counseling for his “issues” in September, a full year after the crash. He felt that Barton should have started treatment immediately. He also pointed out that Barton “had not gotten tired of paying fines for speeding” or learned to drive more responsibly.
And while he factored in that the York family had forgiven Barton, he said that he could not overlook the suffering of the two families and all that Herb Young faces in the future.
Barton, who had been free on bail awaiting sentencing, was taken into custody immediately.