LEWISTON – A high-speed chase that led to the death of a Litchfield teenager has led a former state trooper and firefighter to ask for mandated jail time for motorists who endanger themselves and others by evading police.

Fern Asselin of Lewiston, who served as a state trooper in the 1970s and is a retired Auburn firefighter, said the death of 15-year-old Ryan Quinn last October pushed him to approach lawmakers asking for a minimum of one year in jail for motorists who trigger police pursuits.

“After all these years, I’m still seeing high-speed chases,” he said. “Most, 60 to 70 percent of them, end up in tragedies. Somebody gets killed or maimed all for nothing,” Asselin said Saturday.

There was no good reason for Quinn to try to escape Lewiston police the night of Oct. 19, 2004, when an officer stopped the Subaru he was driving and noticed it had been reported stolen, Asselin said. Quinn sped away and led police on a high-speed chase through several Lewiston neighborhoods and eventually crashed into a telephone pole.

After reading about how Quinn died in that crash, “that broke my heart. There was no need of it,” Asselin said Saturday night. “If Ryan Quinn knew he might have to go to jail, he might have thought twice before pushing that gas pedal.”

While a state trooper in the early 1970s, Asselin said he was involved in a high-speed chase. “The guy was drunk. The car rolled and the guy got out without a scratch. Fortunately nobody got hurt. But that’s not always the case.” Most motorists who lead police on chases refuse to stop “for stupid reasons.” It is illegal to evade an officer, but offenders rarely go to jail, Asselin said.

Rep. Elaine Makas, D-Lewiston, sponsor of the LD 210, said that although lawmakers are looking for ways to reduce Maine’s jail population, prosecuting those who start police chases would not significantly increase the number of inmates.

“I’m with Fern Asselin on this to cut down on hot pursuits,” Makas said Saturday. “If it does prevent one person from getting hurt or killed, it’s worth it.”

The bill will be heard at 10 a.m. Monday before the legislative Criminal Justice Committee, in Room 436 of the State House. Others supporting the bill, Asselin, said, include the police chiefs of the Lewiston and Auburn police departments, as well as the Androscoggin Sheriff’s Department.

The high-speed chase bill is one of three that would affect motorists.

Others would impose tougher penalties against drunk drivers and allow the state to seize automobiles from any motorist who either drives intoxicated or refuses to submit to tests three times in a five-year period.

The Associated Press and staff writer Bonnie Washuk contributed to this report.


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