AUBURN — A former local police officer who crashed after going through a red light pleaded guilty Thursday to driving to endanger.
Mitchell Sweetser, 43, of Auburn pleaded guilty last year to drunken driving, but he was allowed to change his plea to a misdemeanor charge of driving to endanger, provided he didn't violate conditions of his delayed sentence.
On Thursday, at Androscoggin County Law Library, he agreed to pay a $575 fine and lose his driver's license for 30 days, the minimum suspension allowed under law. The Class E crime to which he pleaded guilty is punishable by up to six months in jail.
If Sweetser had violated any of the terms of his delayed sentence, he could have been sentenced on the charge of operating under the influence.
The plea stems from a November 2007 accident on Hampshire Street in Auburn. Sweetser reportedly ran a red light that night. He was charged with criminal OUI. His blood-alcohol content was recorded at 0.19 percent, more than twice the legal driving threshold of 0.08. A police report said Sweetser apparently fell asleep behind the wheel.
Assistant District Attorney Richard Beauchesne dismissed the initial charge moments before going to trial after a jury was picked and assembled outside the courtroom. The 25-year-old driver of the other vehicle in the accident had died unexpectedly seven months after the crash. Beauchesne said he wanted to wait for complete autopsy results before going to trial. He said he wanted to know whether that driver's death was connected in any way to the accident. If it had been, Beauchesne said he might have elevated the charge. But a state medical examiner's autopsy showed the death had "no causal connection" to the accident.
Prosecutors brought back the same charge against Sweetser in March 2009. Through his attorney, Sweetser argued last summer that prosecutors had taken too long to charge him again for the same crime.
A judge didn't dismiss the charge against Sweetser, but limited prosecutors to the evidence and testimony available at the time of the first trial.
Sweetser had always been interested in pleading guilty to a charge of driving to endanger, his attorney said.
Sweetser suffered a serious head wound when he crashed through the passenger window. He also sustained a shoulder injury.
A sergeant at the Androscoggin County Sheriff's Department investigated the accident. The state was represented by a prosecutor from the District Attorney's Office in Oxford County because assistant district attorneys at the Androscoggin County office often work with local police. On Thursday, though, Androscoggin County Deputy District Attorney Craig Turner stood in for Beauchesne.