Law Court hears appeal of truck driver who caused death of two in Knox County

By Stephen Betts | Feb 07, 2019
Photo by: Stephen Betts Randall Weddle, right, has appealed his conviction for manslaughter. Defense attorney Jeremy Pratt, center, represents the Virginia truck driver. Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Baroody prosecuted the case.

Portland — The Maine Supreme Court, also known as the Law Court, will decide whether a blood test taken on a Virginia truck driver should have been admitted as evidence in a trial that resulted in his conviction on two counts of manslaughter following a fatal crash in Washington three years ago.

The hearing held Thursday, Feb. 7, before the state's high court in the appeal by 56-year-old Randall Junior Weddle lasted about a half-hour.

Weddle was convicted by a Knox County jury in January 2018 on two counts of manslaughter, three counts of aggravated operating under the influence, two counts of driving to endanger and eight counts of various trucking rule violations. Those violations included false record-keeping, driving while fatigued, driving while using alcohol and driving while possessing alcohol.

Justice William Stokes sentenced Weddle last March to 30 years in prison with all but 25 years suspended, to be followed by four years of probation. The sentence was the longest prison sentence imposed in Maine in a vehicular manslaughter case.

The case stems from a March 18, 2016, crash that claimed the lives of 45-year-old Christina Torres-York of Warren and 74-year-old Paul Fowles of Owls Head. Tracy Cook of Union was injured, sustaining multiple broken bones and a concussion from the crash, which occurred on Route 17 in Washington.

Testimony during the trial showed Weddle was under the influence of alcohol and speeding when the crash occurred.

The prosecution pointed out in its sentencing recommendation that Weddle had 12 convictions for operating under the influence and 11 speeding tickets prior to the March 2016 fatal crash. Those were among 51 criminal and traffic violations.

Weddle's driver's license was suspended in Louisiana and Virginia at the time of the fatal crash in Washington because of OUI convictions.

Weddle lived in Virginia on the Tennessee border and when his license in Virginia was suspended for drunk driving, he went across the state line to get a license in Tennessee.

At Thursday's hearing, Weddle's attorney, Jeremy Pratt, of Camden, argued that the state erred in not obtaining a warrant to take a blood test from Weddle at the scene.

Pratt cited a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court case (Missouri vs. McNeely) in which the court ruled that police should have obtained a warrant from the court before they ordered a blood sample taken from a driver suspected of drunk driving.

That test showed a blood alcohol level of 0.09.

Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Baroody, who was deputy district attorney and one of two prosecutors in the case at the time of trial, argued that because of all the activities occurring when officers arrived, a warrant was not obtained.

Justices questioned Pratt about those circumstances.

The defense attorney argued, however, that officers were conducting an investigation into the crash during the hour that Weddle was trapped in his vehicle and they had time to get a court warrant.

Pratt said the blame should be placed on the District Attorney's Office for not educating officers about the requirement to get a warrant.

There is no timetable for when the Law Court will issue a ruling.

Comments (4)
Posted by: Barry Douglas Morse | Feb 08, 2019 08:18

I think Tennessee and Maine lawmakers neede to share responsibility for this driver being on the road in the first place.  Neither state is part of the Interstate Driver License Compact.  Any driver with a suspended license in another state can go to Maine, Wisconsin, Georgia, Michigan, or Tennessee and apply for a license there. That's how this driver managed to remain on the road.

States that are part of the compact share a database of suspended and revoked license information.

 

But let's see how this is decided.  Maine-licensed drivers are subject to an "implied consent" law:

"Under Implied Consent, you automatically agree to a chemical test (blood, breath, or urine) at any time authorities have probable cause to administer it. If you refuse to take such a test for alcohol or drugs, your driver's license will be immediately suspended. The suspension could be for a period of up to six years. Because it is an administrative suspension, no court action is necessary. In addition, testimony from the arresting officer regarding your driving performance can result in an OUI conviction even without the BAC test!" (Maine.gov).

The court will have to decide whether the statute applies equally to out-of-state drivers, whether the driver was informed of his right to refuse a blood test, and whether he refused. There may be other factors.

 

 



Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Feb 07, 2019 15:15

Justice for Paul who died for this man's impaired driving. Get on with it, lock him up and throw away the key. The family of Paul should get some relief. Justice!



Posted by: Reggie Montgomery | Feb 07, 2019 13:00

The police did what they were supposed to. Why would they need a warrant to do a blood test from a suspected drunk driver? Especially when they have killed two people in their drunken stupor. They don't need one if they stop someone suspected of OUI. This poor excuse for human life should suck it up. Look at his history. How can he even have nerve enough to dispute his sentence?

 



Posted by: Deborah L. C. Green | Feb 07, 2019 12:47

I thought Maine State Law mandates blood alcohol/drug testing in fatal accidents.



If you wish to comment, please login.