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Truck driver sentenced to 25 years for crash that killed two in Washington

By Stephen Betts | Mar 23, 2018
Photo by: Stephen Betts Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Baroody, left, calls for a 50-year sentence for Randall Weddle, right. Defense attorney Jeremy Prattt of Camden is seated with Weddle.

Rockland — A 55-year-old truck driver was sentenced Friday, March 23, to 25 years in prison for driving a tractor-trailer while drunk and speeding, causing the deaths of two Knox County residents.

Justice William Stokes imposed the sentence on Randall Junior Weddle for 15 counts, including two counts of manslaughter. The full sentence was 30 years with all but 25 years suspended, to be followed by four years of probation.

The charges stem 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 that occurred on Route 17 in Washington.

Stokes said Weddle's behavior of being drunk, being ill and speeding in an 80,000-pound vehicle was about as serious as any manslaughter case could be. The judge also said that Weddle's claim of accepting responsibility was dubious.

The judge said the pain experienced by family members was beyond description. "There are so many victims. The ripples go on forever," Stokes said.

The judge also took aim at Weddle's criminal record. He called it utterly staggering.

"It almost takes your breath away," Stokes said.

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 wereamong 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.

Stokes asked how Weddle was able to have a license with such a record. Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Baroody said he looked into the matter and was not able to find an answer, but acknowledged department of motor vehicles officials in those states where Weddle's licenses were suspended or revoked had not communicated with other states.

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.

In a May 2016 interview, Rick Mullenix, the owner of trucking company R & E Logistics Inc. of Chuckey, Tenn., said he was not aware that Weddle's license had been revoked in Virginia and suspended in Louisiana. He had hired Weddle in September 2015.

District Attorney Jonathan Liberman and ADA Baroody had recommended that Weddle be sentenced to 50 years in prison with all but 40 years suspended. The maximum sentence for manslaughter is 30 years, but the prosecutors argued that the sentences should be consecutive rather than concurrent because the maximum sentence did not impose a sufficient term.

Stokes said 30 years was a significant sentence.

Defense attorney Jeremy Pratt asked the court to impose a sentence of 20 years with all but nine years suspended. He said the sentence being sought by the prosecution was three times more than any previous sentence imposed for a vehicular manslaughter conviction in Maine, even in cases where there were multiple victims.

Weddle was convicted by a Knox County jury Jan. 30 on all counts -- 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.

The District Attorney's Office had made an initial offer to Weddle last year of 30 years with all but 20 years suspended, but Weddle rejected that offer.

Numerous family members and friends of the victims have attended each of the preliminary hearings and the trial. More than 20 turned out for Friday's sentencing hearing, with several holding individual red roses.

Family members and friends spoke to Stokes, asking him to impose the maximum sentence possible.

Family members of Torres-York said their lives have not been the same since her death. They said she was not able to see the birth of her granddaughter and will not see other memorable family milestones. Her sister, Theresa Kenniston, said Torres-York was like a second mother to her and someone she could confide in. Kenniston said she listens to voicemails to hear her sister's voice.

Torres-York earned her bachelor's degree in mental health and human services through the University of Maine in Augusta and was due to graduate in May 2016.

Stokes said the state was in such need of substance abuse counselors and the death of Torres-York was a loss for the state as well as to her family and friends.

Fowles' longtime partner also addressed the judge about losing him. Stokes pointed out that Fowles was a well-respected member of the community and a veteran.

The prosecutors pointed out that Weddle was drunk, speeding, had drunk in the truck and falsified his logs.

Testimony during the trial included results of blood-alcohol tests that showed he had a 0.090 level immediately after the crash and 0.073 a few hours later in a test taken at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, where he had been flown by a LifeFlight helicopter

There was also testimony that Weddle was traveling at a minimum of 69 miles per hour when he lost control of the 1996 Freightliner tractor-trailer truck on a curve by Fitch Road. The trailer was carrying lumber. The truck had been traveling at 81 miles per hour less than 30 seconds before the crash.

The prosecutors cited the impact on victims in calling for the sentence of 50 years, of which Weddle would have served 40. They cited the death of the two victims and the injuries to Cook.

"Virtually all of the first responders on the scene describe this as the most significant crash of their careers, and those who arrived first to the call will forever have the crash scene burned into their memories," the sentencing memo states. "The psychological trauma on all of those witnesses is significant, and it is all a direct result of the defendant's conduct."

The defense included a biography of Weddle, who was raised on a tobacco farm in Virginia. Weddle dropped out of school after eighth grade to help on the family farm. The defense stated that Weddle had had a strong work ethic throughout his life.

Pratt also argued in his sentencing recommendation that Weddle accepted responsibility during interviews with police. The judge should also consider Weddle's age in the sentencing, the Camden attorney argued.

There were several letters submitted to the court by friends of Weddle's asking for leniency. He also submitted a letter to the court that was not read during the hearing.

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Comments (6)
Posted by: Annette M Tolman | Mar 26, 2018 14:02

Now the broken drivers' licensing system needs to be fixed that allowed this to happen in the first place.  A suspended license should be a suspended license - no matter what state you are in.  In today's electronic world, there is no excuse for someone being able to cheat the system like this.



Posted by: Stephen Betts | Mar 26, 2018 06:40

He will serve 25 years and then be on probation for four years.



Posted by: Claire Florence Seekins | Mar 25, 2018 22:08

I'm confused, does he get 25 years or 5 with 4 years probation.



Posted by: Marlene W Dodge | Mar 24, 2018 18:43

This sentence is a slap in the face for the victims families. I know this because my grandson has been to Hell and back.

What was the judge thinking--with all of his violations, he should be going to prison for life.



Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Mar 24, 2018 15:32

Too bad they did not have the option of the death penalty. Even life without parole would have been better than this decision. My prayers in memory of Paul!



Posted by: Reggie Montgomery | Mar 24, 2018 13:09

25 years? Is that all?  What a lapse in justice....



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