ROCKLAND, Maine — The truck driver accused of driving drunk, speeding and operating with a revoked license in a crash that killed two people made his initial appearance Monday morning in a Maine court.
Randall Junior Weddle, 54, of Greeneville, Tennessee, appeared in Knox County Unified Court on two counts of manslaughter and two counts of aggravated driving under the influence in connection with the March 18 crash in Washington that claimed the lives of Christina Torres-York, 45, of Warren and Paul Fowles, 74, of Owls Head.
Weddle entered no plea because it was an initial appearance. Justice William Stokes kept bail at $100,000 cash, though the defense will be allowed at a future hearing to argue for a lower amount.
The next scheduled court hearing for Weddle was set for July 28 but that could change if he is indicted. The next scheduled grand jury session in Knox County is the week of June 8.
Attorney David Paris of Bath was appointed by the court to represent Weddle, who arrived in Maine on Friday evening after he waived extradition following his arrest in Virginia on May 6. Weddle is being held at the Knox County Jail in Rockland.
Paris declined comment on the case after the hearing.
Several members of the victims’ families sat in the first two rows of the courtroom for Monday’s hearing and then were led out by the county’s victim witness advocate at the conclusion of the session.
According to an affidavit filed by the Knox County Sheriff’s Office to obtain the arrest warrant for Weddle, his blood-alcohol level was 0.09 when a blood sample was taken from him by an emergency medical services worker at the scene of the crash on Route 17 near the intersection with Fitch Road.
A sample taken more than an hour later at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston allegedly resulted in a blood alcohol level of 0.073. The driver also had hydrocodone in his system, according to the police report.
Under Maine law, a person is considered operating under the influence if his or her blood alcohol level is at 0.08 or greater. Federal law states a commercial driver is under the influence if the blood alcohol level is 0.04 or greater.
Weddle told investigators at the hospital that he had not been feeling well and had taken a drug called Lortab, which contains hydrocodone, according to an affidavit filed with the court. Weddle said he had come from Tennessee and made a delivery in Massachusetts before coming to Maine to pick up lumber in Searsmont. He was heading back to Tennessee to deliver the load when the accident occurred.
Weddle’s truck had been traveling 81 mph shortly before the crash and was operating at 73 mph when it occurred, according to the affidavit. That information was obtained from data downloaded from the engine control module, according to police. The speed limit is 55 mph on that section of Route 17.
Weddle was driving west near Fitch Road when the 1998 Freightliner loaded with lumber veered into the eastbound lane, according to police. Fowles was driving east in a 2009 Chevrolet Colorado and was the first vehicle in line struck by the truck.
The trailer and load of lumber then struck a 1998 Chrysler van that was behind Fowles and being driven by Torres-York. The van was pushed into a nearby field and burst into flames.
A 2014 Nissan driven by Tracy Cook, 51, of Union also was struck by the trailer, and it rolled over once before hitting another vehicle that had been following, a 2015 Kia driven by Tracy Morgan, 33, of Washington. Morgan was able to avoid being struck by the trailer after she took evasive action, but not the Nissan as it rolled over. The Nissan and the Kia came to rest in the field to the right.
Morgan was uninjured in the crash. Cook was taken by ambulance to a local hospital.
Weddle was taken by a LifeFlight helicopter to CMMC in Lewiston. A passenger in the Freightliner, Lowell Babb, 32, of Virginia, was taken to Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport and treated for minor injuries.
The maximum possible sentence for manslaughter is 30 years in prison.
The trucking company that employed the Greeneville, Tennessee man, R & E Logistics Inc. of Chuckey, Tennessee, has a safety record far worse than the national average.