June 21, 2018
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Lewiston man who crashed during high-speed chase appeals dismissal of his lawsuit

By Chris Williams, Sun Journal

AUBURN, Maine — A Lewiston man who sued the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Department after he crashed during a high-speed car chase is appealing his case to the state’s top court.

Glen Witham, 42, filed a notice in Androscoggin County Superior Court earlier this month to appeal the decision by a judge who last month dismissed Witham’s complaint against the Sheriff’s Department and various law enforcement officers.

Witham fled police in 2010 and crashed his car into a sport utility vehicle driven by a pregnant woman. He ended up in the hospital and underwent surgery, followed by rehabilitation.

He had been the target of an investigation by an Androscoggin County sheriff’s deputy, who suspected him of stealing a computer. The deputy had arranged online to meet Witham in Greene in May 2010. Witham fled in a car and the deputy pursued him.

In February, after a court hearing, Androscoggin County Superior Court Justice MaryGay Kennedy granted a motion filed by the defendants to dismiss all counts in Witham’s complaint.

Earlier this month, Witham filed notice that he planned to appeal Kennedy’s order to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in Portland.

In his notice, Witham wrote that the trial court judge didn’t properly interpret the Maine Tort Claims Act. That law requires that a plaintiff provide notice to the governmental entity or its workers that the plaintiff is suing within 180 days of the cause of the civil action. Only if the plaintiff shows “good cause why notice could not have been reasonably filed” within that time can that requirement be waived.

Witham wrote in his notice that “this is an error and is immediately appealable by law.” He said the high court has “recognized that (in) certain limited circumstances,” the deadline for providing notice can be triggered by the discovery of an injury rather than by the moment the injury occurred.

Witham pleaded guilty in 2011 to three felonies stemming from the crash, including aggravated assault, eluding an officer and passing a roadblock.

He was sentenced to five years in prison with all but 29 months suspended, followed by two years of probation. He also was ordered to pay nearly $15,000 in restitution.

He was released in November after challenging his continued incarceration.

Last year, he filed a complaint in Androscoggin County Superior Court against the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Department, later amending it to include numerous law enforcement officers. He said he planned to use any award to cover his medical bills.

Witham claimed that law enforcement officers altered facts in their reports of the vehicle chase and resulting accident.

The defendants had the case removed to federal court in Portland from Androscoggin County Superior Court. A federal judge issued an order in October 2012 dismissing all federal claims and transferred the remaining state claims back to county court.

Those claims were negligence; libel and slander; deceit and entrapment; negligent supervision; failure to supervise and covering up an investigation; fraudulent concealment; obstructing justice; and conduct unbecoming of an officer.

In November, the defendants named in the lawsuit filed a motion to dismiss the remaining state claims against them.

Witham represented himself in court last month to oppose the defendants’ motion.

The county’s attorney argued that Witham failed to meet the statutory deadline for filing notice to sue.

Witham served a notice of claim on the defendants on January 2012, about a year and a half after he was in rehab from the accident. Witham said he had no memory of the events of the crash immediately afterward, but he didn’t indicate exactly when he regained his memory. He told the judge that he filed notice of his claim when he took possession of police videos of the chase, which was after he learned about the existence of the videos.

“There is no allegation or evidence that he lacked enough memory to file notice of claim within the 180-day period, or that any issue obtaining the police video exceeded ordinary difficulty in learning the facts underlying the claim,” Kennedy wrote in her order last month.

She dismissed other claims, reasoning that they were not supported by relevant state law.

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