Baldacci signs bill to curb worst of bad drivers

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AUGUSTA (AP) – Declaring the occasion one of “humility and quiet reflection,” Gov. John Baldacci on Friday signed into law a bill to help rid Maine’s roads of motorists who have lost their driving privileges.

Scott Turcotte, husband of the Scarborough woman who was killed in a crash last summer on the Maine Turnpike that prompted what is now known as “Tina’s Law,” stood behind Baldacci as he signed the bill. Sponsors and other supporters were also in Baldacci’s office for the ceremony.

The new law redefines which drivers are covered by mandatory minimum sentences, creates the crime of aggravated operating after habitual offender revocation, and imposes new penalties.

For habitual offenders who drive drunk, drive to endanger or commit other serious offenses after having their licenses revoked or suspended, mandatory penalties range from $500 to $3,000 and six months to five years in jail.

The courts can sentence a driver to up to five years and order fines of up to $5,000 for causing an accident in which another person is injured. A driver causing a fatality could spend a decade in prison and face up to $20,000 in fines.

The law also targets drivers with three or more violations of major motor vehicle violations in five years, or 10 or more moving violations in five years, for $500 minimum fines and 30-day jail sentences if caught driving after suspension or revocation.

Baldacci said Tina’s Law is just one step toward keeping those who have lost their driving privileges off the highways. He also sent a warning: “If your driving rights have been revoked, there is no excuse for you to be on the road. And if you choose to drive, we will prosecute you with every tool we have.”

Tina Turcotte, who was 40, died of injuries from an accident last July 29 when her car was struck from behind by a truck in a construction zone along the turnpike in Hallowell. The truck was driven by Scott Hewitt, who had a record of 63 convictions, 23 license suspensions and involvement in a 1994 fatality. Hewitt, of Caribou, faces various charges, including manslaughter.

Baldacci said Friday that the new law couldn’t bring Tina Turcotte back to life, “but we do have the tools to save the next Tina.”

“There are times when signing a bill brings pride and confidence,” Baldacci said somberly. “Today’s bill brings humility and quiet reflection.”

Scott Turcotte did not speak during the ceremony.

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