Truck driver loses bid to suppress evidence in crash that killed two

By Stephen Betts | Sep 16, 2017
Photo by: Knox County Jail Randall Weddle

Rockland — The state can use blood tests and statements from a Tennessee truck driver accused of driving drunk and speeding, resulting in a crash last year that claimed the lives of two local residents.

Justice William Stokes denied motions filed on behalf of Randall Junior Weddle to suppress evidence gathered by police in the wake of the 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.

An attorney for Weddle said he was disappointed with the ruling and the issue could go before the state's highest court.

The Sept. 11 ruling means the state can introduce at any upcoming trial two blood tests taken from the 55-year-old Weddle. One taken at the scene of the crash by an emergency medical services worker recorded a 0.09 blood alcohol level. A sample taken more than an hour later at the hospital 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 to be operating under the influence if his or her blood alcohol level is 0.08 or greater. Federal law says a commercial driver is under the influence if his or her blood alcohol level is 0.04 or greater.

Stokes said the blood test taken at the scene was done without a warrant, but that the circumstances of police dealing with such an emergency situation fits into the exceptions for a warrantless blood draw. The judge also ruled that Weddle was of the proper state of mind while at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston to sign a form allowing investigators to review his medical records.

The defense had argued that Weddle was heavily medicated, lying prone and receiving medical care and could not waive his right not to self- incriminate the night of the crash when he was interviewed by police at the hospital.

The judge also denied the defense's efforts to suppress the search of the truck driven by Weddle that resulted in the discovery of a three-quarters-full bottle of Crown Royal whiskey. In addition to the bottle were found a shot glass, straw and steel wool. The latter two items are often associated with smoking crack cocaine.

Weddle was indicted in June 2016 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 include false record-keeping, driving while fatigued, driving while using alcohol and driving while possessing alcohol.

He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. Weddle has been held at the Knox County Jail in Rockland in lieu of $100,000 cash bail since his arrest in the spring of 2016.

Weddle is represented by attorneys Jeremy Pratt and Christopher MacLean of Camden. District Attorney Jonathan Liberman and Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Baroody are prosecuting the case.

"I am disappointed with the denial of the motions to suppress. I think it is barbaric to allow the police to shove needles in a person's body to extract blood without consent, and that this is illegal under our constitution, but the Maine Supreme Court will need to address that issue if this matter is appealed after trial," attorney MacLean said.

In the interview with the officers, Weddle said he was rounding a curve when a car in the oncoming direction was straddling the center line, which caused him to turn to the right and then he believed the load of lumber he was carrying shifted.

Data later downloaded from the truck's engine control module recorded the truck as traveling 81 mph shortly before the crash and 73 mph when the crash occurred.

The speed limit is 55 mph on that section of Route 17.

Police reported in an affidavit filed in court last year that Weddle’s driver's license had been earlier revoked in Virginia. He also had his license suspended in Louisiana.

Weddle told both officers that he had not been feeling well and thought he had a cold or flu. He said he had taken a drug called Lortab. That drug contains hydrocodone, according to court documents.

Weddle said he had come from Tennessee and made a delivery in Boston before coming to Maine to pick up lumber at Robbins Lumber in Searsmont. Weddle was traveling back to Tennessee to deliver the load when the crash occurred.

Weddle was driving west on Route 17 near Fitch Road in a 1998 Freightliner when the rig veered into the eastbound lane, according to police. Fowles was driving east in a 2009 Chevrolet Colorado and was the first vehicle in line hit by the truck.

The trailer and load of lumber then struck a 1998 Chrysler van that was behind Fowles, driven by Torres-York. The van was pushed into a nearby field and burst into flames.

The earliest a trial would be held is November, and if not then, perhaps in January.

Weddle's attorneys have also asked for the trial to be held outside of Knox County, but a decision on that will likely not occur until jury selection is held.

The state initially offered Weddle a 30-year prison sentence with all but 20 years suspended, an offer rejected by the Tennessee man. The maximum sentence for manslaughter is 30 years.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Sep 15, 2017 13:41

Two people died because of a driver speeding and indulging in drugs while driving. No brainer. Lock him up and throw the key away. Condolences to the families left behind grieving.

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