AUBURN — An Androscoggin County Sheriff's deputy had arranged a meeting with a man suspected of stealing laptops when the man spotted him and took off in his car.
The suspect from Smithfield ended up crashing his car on Route 202 in Winthrop after a chase by the deputy who was seeking to arrest the man on an outstanding felony warrant.
Deputy Maurice Drouin remains on the job pending an investigation into the crash, Sheriff Guy Desjardins said Tuesday at a news conference at the Androscoggin County building.
The crash triggered three independent investigations, including his office's internal investigation, Desjardins said.
A week before the May 12 accident, Desjardins' office got a tip that Glen A. Witham, 39, had been using fake addresses to buy at least two laptops from local stores. Witham allegedly used the address of a past acquaintance for billing future payments on the computers.
Drouin and Witham had corresponded online, Witham unaware of Drouin's identity. One of the sellers helped authorities track down the computer by tracking software built into it, Desjardins said.
Drouin set up a meeting in Greene with Witham on May 12 to discuss the purchase of an item Witham had posted for sale on Craigslist, an online classified ad site.
“It appears (Witham) had noticed the deputy and the chase ensued,” Desjardins said.
Witham raced down Route 202 into Winthrop in a Dodge Stratus. He avoided spike mats authorities set in his path, then, three miles away, smashed into an SUV driven by 27-year-old Jenna Lawrence of Manchester and flipped off the road. Eight months pregnant, Lawrence escaped without life-threatening injuries, police said.
Witham was hospitalized in critical condition. As of Tuesday, he remained at Central Maine Medical Center, unable to move, Desjardins said.
Witham hasn't been charged in connection with the crash, Desjardins said.
The Kennebec County District Attorney's Office is looking into possible charges.
Witham had failed to show up in court for sentencing on a felony theft charge. He has an extensive criminal history dating back to 1990, Desjardins said. Witham was convicted of “numerous” burglary and theft charges resulting in jail sentences ranging from four years in prison to shorter stints at county jails, the sheriff said.
An arrest warrant was issued on March 22 when he failed to appear to serve a one-year sentence for a conviction on a Class C felony.
Witham has four active protection-from-abuse orders against him involving allegations of domestic violence by four women, Desjardins said.
Witham's driving record includes eight convictions and four suspensions. His license was suspended for failing to file insurance, failing to appear in court and failing to pay child support.
Maine State Police are investigating the May 12 accident, including a reconstruction investigation.
Androscoggin County Capt. Ray Lafrance is overseeing an internal investigation of the department's actions relating to the chase and accident. His investigation will determine whether departmental policies and procedures were followed in undertaking pursuits, creating roadblocks and other actions.
The last time an Androscoggin County Sheriff's deputy was involved in a similar crash likely was in the late 1980s, Desjardins said.
Every police officer who attempts to pull over a vehicle could end up facing the same choice of whether to engage in a pursuit if the driver of the vehicle fails to pull over, Desjardins said. Whether to follow the vehicle depends on a variety of factors, including time of day, road conditions and traffic density, he said.