PARIS – After about 45 minutes of deliberation, a jury found a Peru man guilty of driving after his license had been revoked because of numerous violations.

John Vargas, 32, of 59 Packard Road was sentenced by Justice Robert E. Crowley to serve half of a two-year prison sentence and two years of probation. During probation, he must refrain from using alcohol and illegal drugs, not operate a motor vehicle without a license, and pay a $1,000 fine.

The charge, a Class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison, came from an incident on April 22 in which Vargas was accused of operating a Ford Ranger pickup while his license was revoked.

Deputy Michael Halacy of the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office said he received a complaint of fireworks being thrown from a truck with two men in it. When he slowed to view Vargas’ truck on the Green Woods Road, he saw a driver wearing a black T-shirt and a passenger with a red T-shirt.

Halacy said the truck sped off after seeing him and turned onto East Shore Road. After the pair stopped, Halacy said the occupants switched seats.

He said there were no fireworks in the truck, and he did not witness the men switch seats.

However, Timothy and Sarah Sirois, who were in a car in front of the truck, reported seeing the occupants switch places.

“The truck stopped, and the driver and passenger swapped positions,” Sarah Sirois said.

Defense attorney Ron Hoffman argued that Jesse Arsenault, who was later fined $250 for operating without a license in the incident, had been the sole operator of the truck.

Defense witness David Wayne, a friend of Vargas,’ said Arsenault and Vargas came to visit him shortly before their arrests and that Arsenault was driving when they departed. Wayne’s girlfriend, Jennifer Malchisky, and Vargas’ girlfriend, Carmen Thibodeau, agreed.

“Jesse always drives,” Thibodeau testified.

Arsenault said he was driving at the time, and he fled from Halacy because he didn’t have a license.

Arsenault disagreed with Assistant District Attorney Joe O’Connor’s suggestion that Vargas and Arsenault switched places because Arsenault would face less serious charges.

“That just doesn’t make any sense,” Arsenault said. “Why would I do anything stupid like that?”

Halacy retook the stand to testify that Arsenault had said the switch occurred for that very reason.

When Vargas took the stand, he said he has been without a license for 14 months and that Arsenault frequently drives for him. He was adamant that he had not been driving during the incident.

“Simply put, I had too much to lose,” he said. “I wouldn’t put my family at risk to that degree.”

Vargas said he has been law-abiding for five to 10 years.

O’Connor disputed the statement, saying the license revocation for being a habitual offender was a result of a May 2006 conviction for driving to endanger.

According to Justice Crowley, Vargas’ record includes four convictions for operating after suspension, two for operating under the influence, two for failure to provide information to a police officer, and one for driving to endanger.

In his closing argument, O’Connor said the three state witnesses had no prior contact with Vargas and no reason to lie about the incident.

“All three of those witnesses said they had no doubt about what they saw,” O’Connor said.

Hoffman argued that the statements of the witnesses were not entirely consistent in their descriptions of the truck’s occupants.

“Clearly there was reasonable doubt in this case,” he said.

Due to his two OUI convictions within the last 10 years, the minimum sentence Vargas could have served is nine months and one day. Crowley ordered the longer sentence due to his history and decision to go to trial, which he said was a sign of not taking responsibility for the crime.

“The defendant told a story that the jury didn’t believe, and I don’t believe,” Crowley said.

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