ELLSWORTH, Maine — A Bucksport man was sentenced Thursday to serve four months behind bars for the role he played in a June 2007 accident on Bayside Road in Trenton that seriously injured a Trenton woman.

Joseph Hills, 41, is expected to begin serving his sentence at Hancock County Jail at 9 a.m. today. He received an overall sentence of two years with all but four months suspended and two months of probation after his release. He also was fined $575 and had his license suspended for 30 days.

Hills pleaded guilty last month to charges of reckless conduct and driving to endanger in connection with the June 22, 2007, accident that involved four cars. Hills was accused of driving a car that collided with three other vehicles as he tried to make a bad pass on Bayside Road while on the way home from his cleaning job in Bar Harbor.

Cheryle Dyer, 55, was driving south on the road when her car crested a small hill and collided head-on with Hills’ car. Her foot and ankle were damaged significantly in the collision.

“This crash altered her life essentially forever,” Carletta Bassano, deputy Hancock County district attorney, told Justice Kevin Cuddy in Hancock County Superior Court.

Bassano said that Dyer had been planning to help care for her dying sister, but because of her injuries, she was unable to do so. Her sister died of cancer while Dyer was recuperating from her injuries in the hospital, Bassano said.

“She feels she is a continuing burden to her family,” the prosecutor said. “She still doesn’t drive.”

Neither Dyer nor Emily O’Connell, 22, of Hampden attended Hills’ sentencing. O’Connell was driving another car south behind Dyer when Hills struck first Dyer’s Subaru and then O’Connell’s Volvo. O’Connell’s injuries were not as severe as Dyer’s.

Hills addressed the court Thursday at his sentencing after several people, including his wife, spoke to Justice Kevin Cuddy on his behalf. Hills tearfully apologized to the judge for what he did.

“I’m terribly sorry for all the injuries,” Hills said while standing at the defense table. “I’m not somebody that looks to hurt people. I love people and love life, and I can honestly say and promise that I will never be here [in court] again.”

Hills was convicted of unsworn falsification and theft in 1986 and for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicants in the 1990s, but Cuddy said he did not view these old convictions as aggravating factors. Hills was not speeding or intoxicated at the time of the accident, the judge said.

Hills had said that he was trying to pass another car but that the other driver sped up, making it difficult for him to pull back into the northbound lane. Cuddy said that by trying to pull ahead, rather than slowing down, Hills showed poor judgment.

“The point is, on June 22, in an instant, you made a decision that was the wrong decision,” Cuddy said.

Bassano, who did not make a recommendation for how long Hills should be behind bars, said outside the courtroom that she thought the sentence was appropriate. Hills, by all accounts, is a decent person who made a bad snap decision that had pretty serious consequences, she said.

“I think it is a reasonable sentence,” Bassano said.

Hills’ attorney, Jeffrey Toothaker of Ellsworth, told Cuddy his client was “a decent guy who screwed up royally.” Toothaker told the judge he recommended going to trial, but that Hills wanted to plead guilty and to take responsibility for the accident.

Outside the courtroom, Toothaker said Hills was genuinely sorry for his role in the accident.

“I thought the sentence was extremely fair,” Toothaker said.



Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....