Known facts are better than fiction

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Norm Croteau is a respected lawyer, a responsible district attorney and a decent guy. We strongly disagree with his decision, though, not to release the accident report on the deadly Dec. 24 wreck in Poland.

That day, Steven Walton, Laura Caron, Michael Cournoyer, Jacob Roy, Matthew Manley and Robert Bruce died. We know that Cournoyer lost control of the car he was driving, and it crossed the center line, striking Walton’s car. Why that happened is unknown and remains under investigation: criminal investigation.

That’s why Croteau is shielding the report.

Maine law has very specific guidelines, under the Criminal History Record Information Act, about releasing information that might interfere with law enforcement proceedings, including criminal investigations.

The criminal investigation being conducted by the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Department is not about the actions and decisions of any of the dead. It is targeting, Croteau explained, one or more people outside that circle and whatever conduct may have contributed to the deadly wreck.

Croteau is – as he should – being cautious about releasing information that might damage any criminal prosecution, including anything that may hinder the court’s ability to impanel an impartial jury.

We believe his caution regarding the contents of the accident report is overly protective.

A traffic accident report is a matter of public record, routinely filed within five days of the accident and available for anyone to view, easily accessible online through InforME.

Accident reports do not place blame. They report known information, such as the name or names of drivers and their home addresses, gender, dates of birth, drivers’ license numbers and status of those licenses, date and place of the accident, name and home address of the vehicle owners, descriptions of the vehicles and information about insurance policies and damage estimates.

None of that information will change during the course of the investigation into the Dec. 24 accident.

We know the date, time and location of the accident. We know the drivers. We know where they lived, how old they were, what their license status is and what kinds of cars were involved. We know all this because the information has been released.

The only information not made public is the name of the owner of the Nissan Altima that Cournoyer was driving.

It was not his own car. It belongs to a young woman; a friend of his.

The criminal investigation must include how and why Cournoyer was behind the wheel, but there is no question, no investigation necessary, into the registered ownership of that car. Shielding that information is unnecessary.

The six people who died in this crash were tremendously loved by their families and friends. The outpouring of sentiment and demonstrations of real grief are proof. But a lot of bad information is being circulated about this accident, rumors turned fact as quickly as they can be repeated. Problem is, the rumors are rumors, and facts are sparse. The result has created a flood of tremendously hurtful and baseless accusations.

Known information is contained in the accident report, and releasing factual information would temper the rumor mill. It’s not going to temper grief, but fact is always better than fiction.

Croteau can and should release this report.

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