LEWISTON — An Oxford teen facing manslaughter charges for the deaths of two passengers in a car she crashed in January made her first appearance in court Wednesday afternoon.
Kristina Lowe, 19, facing charges in the deaths of Rebecca Mason, 16, of West Paris and Logan Dam, 19, of Norway, appeared in 8th District Court via video from the Oxford County Jail in Paris.
Dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, her hands cuffed and her feet shackled, Lowe stood quietly beside her attorney, James Howaniec of Lewiston, as Justice Donald Alexander explained that her case would next go to an Oxford County grand jury.
The grand jury is scheduled to meet in Paris in June and is expected to present an official indictment of Lowe. Alexander, a Maine Supreme Judicial Court justice, ordered the case continued until July 3.
He said depending on how the grand jury votes, Lowe could face all, some or none of the charges filed by Maine State Police.
State police arrested Lowe on Tuesday on two counts of manslaughter, two counts of aggravated operating under the influence, two counts of aggravated driving to endanger and one count of leaving the scene of a motor vehicle crash resulting in death. All of the charges are felonies.
A police affidavit says Lowe was driving 75 mph, had been drinking and smoking pot and was texting on her cellphone when she crashed on Route 219.
If convicted, she faces a maximum of 95 years in jail and fines of more than $100,000.
Alexander set bail at $50,000 unsecured with conditions that Lowe not have any contact with any of the state's witnesses in the case or with any members of the victims' families. She must not consume alcohol or drugs and is prohibited from operating a motor vehicle.
The unsecured bail means Lowe will be released, but would have to pay $50,000 to the court if she missed her next court appearances.
Members of Mason's family, including her parents, sat in the Lewiston courtroom watching the proceedings and listening to the justice's instructions.
After Lowe's appearance, Jerrold Mason, Rebecca Mason's father, said he wasn't sure he was satisfied with the bail conditions, but he also said he didn't fully understand them.
Mason spoke briefly with reporters about his daughter and his efforts to change Maine driving laws, including changing the required curriculum for driver's education courses to include segments on distracted driving.
He said he still has many questions about the morning his daughter died.
Mason has told reporters Rebecca left the family home in the middle of the night without permission, and that he and his wife learned of their daughter's death from police in the early-morning hours the next day.
Mason said his daughter was an enthusiastic ATV rider and hunter and this week was particularly difficult for his family.
"It was opening day for turkey season the other day and my son and I went out and my daughter wasn't able to be with us; it just made it tough," Mason said, holding back tears. "That and just seeing how distraught her mother has been, just breaks my heart."
He described Rebecca as "a ball of joy," a great athlete and the kind of person who was able to make friends with everybody.
He said he hopes the state will not accept a plea bargain in the case, noting that reports show Lowe made several attempts to leave an underage drinking party even after her keys were taken from her by friends concerned she was too intoxicated to drive.
"I just don't understand: Why didn't somebody else try to stop her?" Mason said.
He added that his family's efforts to see Lowe prosecuted and to change state laws are aimed at preventing other families from having to endure a similar tragedy.
"If we can just help somebody else's family from having to go through this, that is all we are hoping for," he said.
According to police, Lowe was driving on Route 219 in West Paris on Jan. 7 when she lost control of a 2002 Subaru car while texting, vaulting into a stand of trees. Dam and Mason were killed instantly in the one-car crash.
A third passenger, Jacob Skaff, 22, of Paris suffered minor injuries. Lowe was seriously injured.
The investigation by Maine State Police troopers determined Lowe was reading and/or sending a text message on her mobile phone at the time of the crash. She had also been drinking that night and was speeding, police said.
Both Lowe and Skaff left the crash site when first responders arrived; they were later found elsewhere.
Investigators say the four were returning to an underage drinking party in West Paris.
A sworn statement filed in support of Lowe's arrest by State Trooper Thomas Welch says Lowe's blood-alcohol level was at 0.04 percent two hours after the crash.
That affidavit stated a blood test also showed Lowe had detectable amounts of marijuana in her system and that she admitted to police she was driving and texting at the time of the crash.
A state police accident reconstruction team also determined the vehicle Lowe was driving was traveling at about 75 mph. The speed limit on that road is 50 mph, according to the affidavit.
A release from state police Tuesday said additional charges stemming from the underage drinking party are pending.