AUBURN — A Lisbon man was sentenced Thursday to nine years in prison for trying to kill a local police officer by ramming his car with a dump truck during a high-speed chase two years ago.

Bartolo Ford, 49, was sentenced in Androscoggin County Superior Court Thursday to 20 years in prison with all but nine years suspended, plus six years of probation.

He was also sentenced on six other counts related to the chase, including aggravated criminal mischief, reckless conduct, eluding an officer and theft by unauthorized taking. He was sentenced to between six months and two years in jail for each of those crimes, all to be served concurrently with the longer prison sentence.

Ford had faced up to life in prison, but Justice Donald Marden said the crime did not warrant the harshest sentence. He said he considered mitigating factors, including Ford’s military service, his diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and the positive role he’d had in the community before the incident.

“It’s a shame that all the good things you’ve done in this world were taken away by that night in question,” Marden told Ford.

The high-speed chase began on Sept. 15, 2008, when Ford was spotted stealing two concrete cylinders from a company on Minot Avenue. When confronted by a police officer, Ford fled in a dump truck. When the truck hit a bump at a bridge on Hotel Road, one of the cylinders fell off and shattered in the road, puncturing the tire of the cruiser driven by officer David Madore and disabling the car.

A second officer, Cpl. Kristopher Bouchard, took up the chase. Ford stopped for Bouchard, then rammed his cruiser twice, disabling it. Bouchard fired four shots through the door of the truck, hitting Ford in the hip.

Officer Matthew Johnson then took up the chase. He caught up to Ford in Poland, at the entrance to the Poland Spring bottling plant. Ford stopped, then rammed Johnson’s cruiser head-on after turning his truck around.

Video footage from Johnson’s dashboard camera was played for the jury during Ford’s August trial. On the tape, Johnson was heard shouting, “He’s trying to kill me!”

At the intersection of Routes 26 and 121, Auburn Deputy Chief Jason Moen took up the chase in an unmarked cruiser. When Moen switched on his flashing blue lights, Ford stopped, then chased Moen’s car and fled to a dead-end road. Ford abandoned his truck in a stream and fled on foot into the woods. He later surrendered to a Maine State Police trooper on Route 26.

During his trial, Ford said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and at the time of the chase was having a flashback. He said his condition was aggravated by a recent change in his prescription medication and by the sleep drug Ambien, which he had taken that night. Ford said he had no memory of the chase.  

A jury of five men and seven women deliberated for three hours before returning guilty verdicts on all charges against Ford, including one count of aggravated attempted murder, two counts of aggravated criminal mischief, two counts of reckless conduct, one count of eluding an officer and one count of theft, a misdemeanor.

On Thursday, Deputy District Attorney Craig Turner recommended Ford serve 21 years in prison with all but 12 years suspended.

“We need to send the message out there that you can’t act deliberately or recklessly against (police) when they are performing their duties,” Turner said.

Ford’s lawyer, Darrick Banda, asked for 15 years in prison with all but two years suspended, saying Ford was a good man who was not in control of himself that night. One by one, fifteen of Ford’s friends and family told the judge stories of the Ford they knew: a kind, generous man who would never hurt anyone. They pleaded for leniency.

“He’s not a bad person. If you need help, he’s there for you,” said neighbor Felina Daniels, who credited Ford with finding jobs for kids who were living on the street and for routinely helping her husband, who is confined to a wheelchair. “Please, judge, I’m begging you for him. He is just a nice person.”   

Ford also addressed the judge and the Auburn police officers who attended the sentencing. Free on bail pending sentencing, Ford said he had spent hundreds of hours in therapy since the incident and is now on a good level of medication. He said he didn’t want to live after he learned about the chase.

“That was not the Bartolo Ford that I am,” he said. “That was not me that night.”

In sentencing him to nine years in prison, Marden acknowledged Ford’s service to his country during the Persian Gulf War and his commitment to his friends, family and neighbors. But Marden said those good works didn’t outweigh the threat he posed on Sept. 15, 2008.

“That night he was a danger to the community,” Marden said.

Banda did not know whether Ford would appeal. The lawyer said he thought the sentence was “a little on the heavy side. It’s essentially a glorified police chase.” 

Auburn Police Chief Phil Crowell said he was pleased with the sentence. Ford, he said, could have killed someone that night.

“I think justice was served,” Crowell said. “Hopefully, he’ll get the help he needs.”

Ford still faces charges of receiving stolen property. Police searched his home after the chase and found items that had allegedly been stolen.

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