Thursday, April 3, 2003

Portland cop pleads to OUI

Published in the Current

Portland Police Lt. Ted Ross, a resident of Cape Elizabeth, pled guilty Tuesday to a misdemeanor charge of OUI in connection with a car accident Dec. 17, when Ross was driving home from an evening of drinking in Portland’s Old Port.

Deputy Attorney General William Stokes filed the charges in Cumberland County Superior Court last week, after an investigation lasting several months. Ross was charged with having a blood alcohol level of 0.15 percent, nearly twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent, Stokes said. Tests done on Ross at Maine Medical Center following the accident showed he had a blood alcohol level of 0.253 percent, more than three times the legal limit, but under state law he is simply charged with being at or above 0.15.

“Ted, from the outset of this episode, has been planning to accept responsibility for what occurred on Dec. 17,” Ross’ attorney, Michael Cunniff, said last week. “He has accepted responsibility all along. He would like to move on with his life and his career.”

Ross was given the mandatory minimum sentence, a $400 fine and a 90-day driver’s license suspension.

And because he pled guilty to having a blood alcohol level of 0.15 percent, he also faces 48 hours in jail. There is a program that could allow him to serve his time without being behind bars, instead doing community service while technically “in custody.”

Stokes called the class D charge, which hits most people charged with OUI unless they have a prior record, “a higher-end misdemeanor.”

Ross does not have any prior OUI convictions, Stokes said.

He said the next-highest OUI charge is “aggravated OUI,” a class C crime, which applies only when an intoxicated driver causes “serious bodily injury” or death.

Ross started the evening of Dec. 17 at an open-bar party hosted by Portland Police Chief Michael Chitwood, and left that party for a Fore Street bar with two senior police officials. When he left the bar, he picked up his unmarked police car, assigned to him as head of the detective bureau, and headed home toward Cape Elizabeth.

On York Street, near the Casco Bay Bridge, Ross’s car collided with a pickup truck, driven by Kevin Hardy of Scarborough, waiting for a parallel parking space to open. The pickup hit a Land Rover, driven by Kimberly McLellan of Gorham, pulling out of the space.

McLellan and Hardy refused medical treatment at the scene.

Ross was not tested for alcohol in his system at the accident scene, and officers and rescue workers at the scene later told investigators that they did not suspect Ross had been drinking.

Ross was taken to Maine Medical Center, where a diagnostic blood test showed the alcohol in his blood.

Hardy and McLellan have filed a lawsuit against Chitwood under the state’s Liquor Liability Act. They are also suing the City of Portland and the Portland Police Department under the state’s Tort Claims Act.

Mark Randall, an attorney handling their case, said the criminal charge “doesn’t really affect us,” though the conviction could be a help to the civil lawsuit.

Ross is on paid administrative leave pending resolution of the case, and could face additional disciplinary action through the police department, Cunniff said.

Chitwood did not return phone calls by the Current’s deadline.