AUGUSTA – A Caribou trucker charged with nine misdemeanors stemming from a fatal accident this summer was granted a reduction in bail and a slim chance at freedom Friday by Superior Court Justice S. Kirk Studstrup.
The Kennebec County Superior Court bail review hearing was requested by Joel Vincent, the Portland attorney representing Scott Hewitt, 32, who remained in jail Friday evening despite his lawyer’s ef-forts.
The hearing was attended by two members of the Maine Legislature, who are seeking to change some of the state’s driving laws.
Vincent had hoped to convince the court to reduce his client’s bail from $100,000 cash or $500,000 surety (property used as collateral) to $2,000 or $20,000 surety. Kennebec County Deputy District Attorney Alan Kelley asked the court to continue Hewitt’s current bail to insure his next scheduled court appearance on Dec. 23.
Instead, Studstrup reduced Hewitt’s bail to $75,000 cash or $300,000 surety. He then offered an alternative bail arrangement to the trucker, who has logged more than 60 driving convictions and more than 20 license suspensions on his record since he first started driving at 15.
Studstrup agreed to release Hewitt from the Kennebec County Jail if a responsible individual or organization offered to “take charge” of Hewitt to guarantee his whereabouts and activities.
“It would have to be a church or some organization well represented in the community that I would accept,” Studstrup said, adding Hewitt’s friends or family members would be ineligible for consideration as personal guarantors.
The judge also said additional bail conditions for Hewitt, including no driving, no possession of drugs or alcohol, a daily report to an appropriate law enforcement agency and orders not to leave the state, would accompany either bail alternative.
Vincent said it would be at least until Tuesday – and possibly much longer – before his client could make arrangements with a responsible party to satisfy the bail requirement, adding Hewitt had no one in mind immediately after Friday’s hearing.
Kelley said the judge’s offer to allow a group or individual to vouch for Hewitt was “not that unusual” and that the court had still taken the step of setting “a very substantial surety amount and a very substantial cash amount” for bail.
But the fact that Studstrup’s responsible party option for bail carried no cash or surety requirement surprised Sen. Bill Diamond, a Democrat from Windham and former Maine secretary of state, and Rep. Darlene Curley, R-Scarborough. Both lawmakers are sponsoring legislation calling for harsher penalties for drivers who persist in operating motor vehicles after the revocation of their licenses.
“All [Hewitt] needs is some organization to sponsor him and he’s out, which essentially to me is no bail at all and that would be very easy for him to obtain,” Diamond said. “Then, with his record and history, we can count on being concerned about him being out there driving again.”
In making his argument for decreased bail, Vincent said his client posed no threat to the integrity of the judicial process and that Hewitt did not have a history of failing to appear in court. Nevertheless, he did acknowledge Hewitt was not present in Cumberland County court in April and that an arrest warrant was issued by the presiding judge.
Vincent argued his client did not believe he had to be in court that day and had not been notified by his attorney in that case to be present. He added that Hewitt’s attorney also failed to appear before the court that day, indicating there may have been some confusion, particularly since the court made no effort to contact the attorney after the April 11 proceeding.
Kelley said that while the evidence against Hewitt could not warrant a charge of manslaughter, the fact that his driver inattentiveness had caused a traffic fatality on July 29 was serious enough to demand a high bail.
In addition to Hewitt’s failure to appear in court on April 11, the prosecutor said pending Aroostook County charges which include operating after suspension in August – immediately after the fatal accident – amounted to violations of the conditions of bail set for Hewitt.
Indicating the state plans to seek consecutive sentences for as many of the nine misdemeanors facing Hewitt as possible, Kelley said the truck driver knows he is going to face substantial jail time upon conviction of the charges and might attempt to jump bail to avoid punishment.
Vincent warned Kelley about “delving into supposition” with respect to his client’s possible behavior and insisted Hewitt does not have a history of failing to appear in court. The defense lawyer said “some ideas” were being explored to find someone or some organization to vouch for his client and see if the court might accept such an option.
“I think what we would hope to do is come up with somebody in the community or an organization, perhaps in conjunction with some lesser amount of bail,” Vincent said. “I think some bail is going to be appropriate in this case, and then it’s just a matter of having somebody else who can give that confidence to the court that Mr. Hewitt won’t drive and he’ll be supervised.”
Hewitt’s tractor-trailer plowed into the rear of a car operated by Tina Turcotte, 40, of Scarborough that had slowed for a construction zone on the Maine Turnpike in Hallowell. Turcotte died from injuries suffered in the crash that Maine State Police said was caused by the trucker’s inattentiveness.
Hewitt is charged with operating after suspension, possession of a suspended license, operating without authority, operating after being placed out of service, two counts of false record of duty status, operating without a medical certificate, operating while in possession of a radar detector, and operating while in possession of a controlled substance (marijuana). He was also charged with civil violations of operating an unregistered motor vehicle and operating without insurance.