PORTLAND — A Massachusetts man found guilty last year of leaving the scene of a fatal accident took his case to the state’s top court on Wednesday.
Domingos Medeiros, who was 50 years old last summer when he was sentenced to two years in prison with all but 90 days suspended, appealed his conviction to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
Through his attorney, Gerald F. Petruccelli of Portland, Medeiros challenged his conviction, saying he couldn’t be guilty of leaving the scene of the accident because he wasn’t at the scene at the time the accident happened.
Medeiros was hauling lumber from Kingfield to Massachusetts on Jan. 16, 2008. Some of the 17-foot-long beams dislodged from the trailer towed by his truck and struck two cars on Route 27. Several of the beams — a half-foot by a foot wide — smashed through the windshield of one of the cars, killing its driver, Stephen McKenney, 55, of New Portland. The other car was hit by the wood. Its passengers sustained minor injuries.
Petruccelli said Medeiros didn’t realize the lumber had fallen off at that time. He only noticed the lumber missing after stopping at a restaurant in Farmington. He retraced his route until he came to a road block where, he was told, there had been a three-car accident. He was ordered by a public official at the roadblock to leave, which he did. Only after returning to Massachusetts did he learn about the cause of that accident, Petruccelli said.
Medeiros was never charged with causing McKenney’s death, Petruccelli said.
In most cases where the charge of leaving the scene of an accident is brought, the defendant is driving one of the vehicles directly involved in the accident and strikes another vehicle or pedestrian, causing personal injury. That’s not the case with Medeiros, Petruccelli said.
“If Mr. Medeiros had not stopped for dinner, but had driven home to Falls River without any knowledge … that the load had fallen off, he could not be charged under this statute,” Petruccelli said.
Until Medeiros returned to find the road blocked, he hadn’t committed any crime, Petruccelli said.
“He has been convicted, not for leaving the scene of an accident, but for leaving the scene of a roadblock,” Petruccelli said.
“One who is driving unaware cannot violate this statute.”
Justice Donald Alexander asked Petruccelli how long it took Medeiros to notify authorities that lumber was missing from his trailer. Then he answered his own question. “Twelve hours.”
“That’s extraordinary to take 12 hours to call when you’ve lost a bunch of timbers off the truck,” Alexander said.
Chief Justice Leigh Ingalls Saufley asked: “If the timbers are gone and he is at the restaurant, is that the point at which he knows that he has been involved in an accident?”
“No,” Petruccelli said. Medeiros had no knowledge as to whether the timbers had fallen in the road or beside the road.
“It is not certainly true that they are in the road and certainly true that they caused an accident.”
Justice Jon Levy suggested that the trial judge concluded Medeiros committed a crime when he returned and found the road blocked.
But Petruccelli said the roadblock was not the accident scene, which was farther up the road, beyond Medeiros’ line of vision on that night.
Levy asked why the roadblock wasn’t a part of the perimeter of the accident scene.
Petruccelli said at the heart of the law is that “if you hit somebody, you don’t leave. You stay there. He didn’t hit anybody.”
Officials at the roadblock didn’t say anything about timbers being involved in the accident, Petruccelli said.
Levy suggested Medeiros should have put together the missing timbers with the accident on that road to conclude there was a connection.
Because Medeiros failed to do the right thing and notify authorities when he realized timbers were missing from his trailer, he prevented authorities from inspecting his load and drawing their own conclusions about what happened that night at the scene of a fatal accident, Assistant District Attorney James Andrews said.
Instead, Medeiros’ truck was inspected 10 days after the accident, Andrews said.
“At what point did the crime occur?” Saufley asked.
“The crime occurred when Mr. Medeiros failed to return to the scene after discovering the load was gone … and make himself known to the victims at the scene and give his information,” Andrews said.
Medeiros knew he’d been involved in a personal injury accident when he saw timbers were missing and drove back 5 miles to the roadblock and was told there was a casualty at the accident scene.
“He knows,” Andrews said. “He has put two and two together.”