RUMFORD — The father of an Oxford teenager facing manslaughter charges in the deaths of two other teens urged students Wednesday to put away their cellphones while driving.
As part of a two-day event at Mountain Valley High School, Earl Lowe gave an emotional speech to students and parents on the dangers of drunk and distracted driving.
Police say Kristina Lowe, 19, was driving under the influence of alcohol, speeding and text-messaging when she crashed a Subaru sedan in January. Rebecca Mason, 16, and Logan Dam, 19, were killed instantly.
Earl Lowe is a former crash investigator for the Maine State Police.
For four years, he reconstructed fatal accidents and conducted vehicular autopsies on vehicles involved in fatal accidents. It was his job to find mechanical problems or evidence that could put someone in jail for crimes committed.
Now, in a macabre twist, he finds himself on the flip side of that. His daughter faces up to 95 years in jail, if convicted.
On the night of Jan. 7, according to a police affidavit, Kristina Lowe was driving 75 mph, had been drinking and smoking pot and was texting on her cellphone when she crashed into a stand of trees on Route 219 in West Paris.
“The vehicle left the highway and went into a group of trees roof first,” Earl Lowe said. “It was a very violent accident.”
He said Kristina lost a vertebra and an inch and a half of height, and required extensive surgery at Maine Medical Center to rebuild her back. She must wear a full body brace and cannot stand long without suffering extreme pain, he said.
“She will never be rid of these and it was all for one bad decision,” her father said. “Peer pressure is what convinced my daughter to get behind the wheel that night. Her friends pressured her and pressured her into doing what she did.”
Published reports have indicated that Lowe made several attempts to leave an underage drinking party that night, even after her keys were taken from her by friends concerned that she was too intoxicated to drive.
Earl Lowe urged teens in that situation to get out of it and, if they've been drinking, to call someone rather than drive or ride home with someone who is equally under the influence.
“I'm pretty sure I can speak for every parent out there," he said. "They would much rather get up at 3 in the morning and come and get you than to go down to the hospital and identify you.”
He also spoke of the loss of Mason and Dam.
“I definitely can't express the proper sympathy to the parents of the children who were lost due to my daughter's accident,” he said. “They will never have their children back. All they have now is a tombstone that they go and talk to, and I feel guilty because I can still talk to my daughter.
“They can't and they never will again and my heart just pours for them. I have the worst mixed emotions I've ever had in my life,” Earl Lowe said.
He urged teenagers to keep their cellphones in their pockets while driving or to lock them in their glove compartments.
“This little black box can kill you,” he said. “These are the most dangerous things in the world when they're combined with a motor vehicle going down the road. There's just no way you can pay attention to that phone and still pay attention to your driving.”
Ninety minutes before the accident, Michele Cushman talked with her daughter on the phone and realized she had been drinking. She urged her not to drive and not to get in the car with someone who had been drinking.
“I know, Mom. I won't,” Rebecca Cushman twice told her.
Her voice quavering, Michele Cushman said she still remembered the horrifying screams of Rebecca's father when she called him after learning of their daughter's death.
“The decision that she made to get in that car with alcohol, not wearing her seat belt and the car speeding, were decisions that she made,” Michele Cushman said. “She knew that it wasn't right.”
She added, “You cannot go through life saying, 'This isn't going to happen to me.' I know that she did and it cost her her life.”
Afterward, sophomore Katie Puiia, 16, of Rumford, said she was profoundly affected.
“I came into it half-serious, not so serious as I am now about it," she said.
"The effects of it are so much more intense than I thought they were going to be," she said. "Like, I used to text and drive sometimes ... but after today, I'm done. It's so scary.”