Thursday, October 13, 2005

Husband, lawmakers upset at trucker's lowered bail

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (Oct 13, 2005): A Scarborough widower is upset a judge has reduced bail for the driver whose 18-wheeler crushed his wife's car, killing her.

The driver, Scott Hewitt, was originally being held on $100,000 cash bail, but had his bail changed last month to allow him to post either that amount or $500,000 in liens on property.

Last week, Kennebec County Superior Court Justice Kirk Studstrup lowered Hewitt's bail, to $75,000 cash or $300,000 in property bonds, at the request of Hewitt's attorney, Joel Vincent. Vincent did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Hewitt is charged with nine misdemeanor charges stemming from the crash, including operating after suspension and operating a commercial vehicle that had been placed out of service.

Though his "inattention" was ruled at fault in the crash, Hewitt is not charged with anything that holds him responsible for causing the death of Tina Turcotte of Scarborough, whose car was crushed by Hewitt's 18-wheeler when he failed to slow down as other cars in front of him, including Turcotte's, were slowing for a traffic backup on I-95 in Hallowell July 29.

“While no amount of bail is going to bring Tina back,” Scott Turcotte feels lowering the bail is “a reflection of some sympathy for Scott Hewitt’s plight,” said Turcotte’s attorney, Michael Vaillancourt.

“There should be no sympathy shown” for a man with an extensive record of driving violations, Vaillancourt said, adding that his client believes Hewitt “should not be released from jail” until after the criminal charges are dealt with in court. Hewitt's trial is slated for Dec. 23.

Hewitt’s record includes more than 60 convictions, more than 20 license suspensions and involvement in two fatal crashes, including the July one in which Tina Turcotte died.

The changes to Hewitt's bail have also drawn criticism from legislators, who note that Hewitt was arrested on a charge of operating after suspension just days after the fatal crash in July, and worry that he might drive again if released from jail.

Rep. Darlene Curley, R-Scarborough, attended Hewitt’s bail hearing Friday. She said she was "disappointed they lowered the amount" of Hewitt's bail, and found it "unbelievable" that the judge said Hewitt could be released with no financial bond if a group or organization agreed to supervise him in advance of his December trial date.

Hewitt's record, which includes more than 60 traffic convictions, more than 20 suspensions, and involvement in two fatal crashes, including the July one in which Turcotte died, shows his disregard for the law, Curley said.

"I'm concerned that he would be behind the wheel as soon as he gets out of jail," she said.

Immediately after the bail hearing, she and Sen. William Diamond, D-Windham, went back to the Statehouse and added a provision in a bill they plan to present to the Legislature in January, she said.

The bill will increase penalties for people who drive on suspended licenses. Curley said they added the ability to hold such a person in jail before trial "for prevention." She said a similar provision is in federal law, but said she did not know if there was such an allowance elsewhere in Maine law.

Curley, who spoke Tuesday afternoon via telephone while driving on the highway from Augusta to Scarborough, said she was on the road with a number of large trucks. "You can't help but look left and right and wonder" if any of them are being driven by repeat violators of the state’s traffic laws, she said.

As of Wednesday, Hewitt had not posted bail from Kennebec County Jail.