HAVERHILL, N.H. (AP) – The trial of a man accused of running down two Holderness School students last year and leaving them dying in a snowbank has ended with a guilty plea – a deal worse than the one he made, then declined, last fall.

Anthony Begin of Holderness, 40, suddenly agreed to plead guilty to two counts of negligent homicide on Wednesday, after hearing a day and a half of testimony.

He faces up to 44 years in prison in the deaths of Michael D’Amico of Geneva, N.Y., and Weston Lea of Grand Isle, Vt.

The teens were walking along Route 175A near the school the night of Jan. 14, 2003, when they were struck from behind by a vehicle that left the scene.

Begin also pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of the accident and misdemeanor drug possession charges. He is scheduled to be sentenced on March 12.

The families of the boys released a handwritten statement saying they were relieved.

“We acknowledge that Anthony Begin has finally accepted responsibility for his actions,” they wrote, adding, “This has been a senseless and preventable loss of two beautiful lives from irresponsible use of alcohol. Don’t ever let others drink and drive.”

The testimony described Begin’s movements that night, from when he entered a Plymouth bar to when he was arrested at his home and taken to a hospital for blood tests.

The agreement he accepted Wednesday includes at least one year of jail time for each of the misdemeanor charges and 11/2 to seven years on each of the other felony charges, up to 44 years.

“I was surprised,” Grafton County Attorney Rick St. Hilaire said of the plea.

Begin originally was charged with two counts of manslaughter. He pleaded innocent, then decided to plead guilty to lesser charges – then changed his mind back to innocent.

Surveillance cameras from the bar showed Begin playing pool and leaving the lounge, stumbling into a snow-covered hedge beside the door.

A bartender, John Cerami, testified he had served Begin three White Russians and three beers in 1 1/2 hours. He said Begin had not appeared intoxicated to him.

But the manager of the nearby Subway shop said a man matching Begin’s description came into the shop just before closing and ordered a meal. He said the man was “extremely incohesive and unable to stand. It was obvious he was intoxicated.”

Ashland Police Sgt. Joe McCominsky, one of the officers who arrested Begin at his mobile home, said Begin appeared intoxicated.

AP-ES-02-12-04 1239EST

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