AUBURN – Joshua Mason didn’t look at his best friend’s parents Friday morning. But he spoke to them.

Minutes before a judge sentenced Mason to one year in prison for causing the car accident that killed Travis Van Durme, 20-year-old Mason walked to the center of the courtroom and read a statement that he had written earlier.

With his head down and his shoulders slightly hunched, Mason told Bonnie and Doug Van Durme that he was sorry.

“I am standing here before you because I made a terrible mistake,” he said, his voice quiet and shaky. “I am sorry for what I have taken away from you.”

Mason pleaded guilty to manslaughter last July in connection with the August 2002 car crash that killed 18-year-old Van Durme.

On Friday, Mason was sentenced to 10 years in prison with all but one year suspended, followed by six years of probation. He was also ordered to complete 600 hours of public service.

‘Grow up’

Van Durme, of Norway, and Mason, of West Paris, met at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School. They worked out together and hung out on weekends. They were on their way to a pool hall in Auburn when Mason crashed into a ditch on Lane Road in Mechanic Falls.

He was driving 77 mph in a 35-mph zone.

At the time of the accident, he had a string of citations on his record for driving to endanger – one in 2000, one in 2001 and two in 2002.

“I hope that you use your year in prison to grow up and face responsibility,” Bonnie Van Durme said to Mason in court Friday. “Driving is a big responsibility. It seems to be something that you have neglected to take seriously.”

The length of Mason’s sentence was decided as part of a plea agreement reached by Deputy District Attorney Craig Turner and Mason’s lawyer, Bill Cote of Lewiston.

“The real purpose of the prison time is to have a sentence that will send a message to this defendant,” Turner said.

For Travis Van Durme’s father, Doug, one year seemed too lenient.

“I think he should get more prison time, more probation,” the father said. “I’m not saying that he should spend the rest of his life in prison. But this is more of a slap on the wrist.”

‘A broken heart’

Doug Van Durme said his son loved going to family parties and playing sports. A star football player in high school, Van Durme was upset with his mom the previous Easter because she didn’t hide candy.

“I don’t think I could explain in words the bond that we had with him,” the father continued.

After learning about Mason’s driving record, the Van Durmes wrote to every state and federal legislator in their district. Shocked that Mason still had his driver’s license, they encouraged local lawmakers to introduce a bill that would require the state to suspend the licenses of drivers cited for driving to endanger twice within a year’s time.

The Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee rejected the bill, reasoning that such a law would have been unconstitutional because accused drivers are entitled to due process.

As a condition of his probation, Mason will be barred from driving. After his probation is over, it will be up to Maine’s secretary of state to determine whether he gets his driver’s license back.

The Van Durmes have accused Mason of having no remorse. Mason told them Friday that he wanted to see them and speak with them many times over the past year. But, with the criminal case still open, he couldn’t.

“I have a broken heart,” he told them.

Before accepting the sentence, Justice Thomas E. Delahanty told Mason that his driving record shows severe negligence and carelessness. The judge also acknowledged the 20-year-old’s grief.

“I have been doing this job for a long time,” Delahanty said, “and it never gets any easier.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.