AUBURN — In a plea agreement finalized just as he was scheduled to stand trial, a local man pleaded guilty to running down another man in what police say was retribution for an earlier fatal accident. He will serve 30 days in jail.

William Panzino, 22, of Auburn, was originally charged with aggravated assault and reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon — his car — for hitting pedestrian Kyle Karkos on June 9, 2010. On Wednesday, in Androscoggin County Superior Court, the state dropped the aggravated assault charge and reduced the reckless conduct charge from a felony to a misdemeanor. In exchange, Panzino pleaded guilty to reckless conduct and a new charge of driving to endanger.

For reckless conduct, the state asked for and the judge sentenced Panzino to 364 days in jail with all but 30 days suspended and one year probation, with the stipulation that he have no contact with Karkos or Karkos’ mother, Kelly. He was also ordered to pay just under $1,350 in restitution. For driving to endanger, Panzino’s license was suspended for 30 days and he was ordered to pay a $575 fine.

The plea agreement came the same morning Panzino was scheduled to stand trial. Assistant District Attorney Andrew Robinson told the court he’d been unable to meet with some witnesses until Tuesday, the day before Panzino’s scheduled trial, and he came away from those interviews concerned about his ability to win the state’s case. The plea agreement, he said, would hold Panzino responsible for his actions while also shielding Karkos and his mother from contact with Panzino for a year. 

However, the Karkos family was not happy with the agreement.

“I am very disappointed with the outcome today,” Kelly Karkos said, crying as she addressed the judge. “It’s like a slap in the face to my son.”

After the sentencing, a Karkos family friend said she blamed the police and the state for failing to gather evidence and make a case for what she believes was an intentional assault on Karkos.

“I was there,” Barbara Chamberlain said. “It was not a good sight. It was something that was purposely done.”

Police said Karkos was involved in a fight with one of Panzino’s friends at a traveling carnival at Great Falls Plaza in Auburn on June 9, 2010. Later that evening, after exchanging words with someone in Panzino’s car, Karkos was struck by that car while he was crossing the street, police said. Karkos was knocked to the ground and taken to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston where he was treated for cuts and bruises to his head, hands and back.

Prosecutors have said the incident was a revenge attack connected to a 2006 crash in which Karkos was the driver. In that crash, Karkos lost control and hit a light pole on a Lewiston street. His passenger, 18-year-old Kenny Jellison Jr., was killed. Karkos, then 17, was acquitted of a manslaughter charge in 8th District Court in Lewiston.

The case divided their friends at Edward Little High School and the two families, and ill will simmered.

Panzino has disputed the prosecutor’s claim. He told police he had tried to toss a lit cigarette out his car window, but it hit the partially rolled down window and landed in his lap, distracting him from seeing Karkos.

On Wednesday, Panzino’s lawyer, James Howaniec, said the plea agreement was a fair resolution. Although he felt the state’s case was weak, he didn’t feel a trial was worth the risk after the prosecutor offered to reduce the charges to misdemeanors. If the case had gone to trial, the felony reckless conduct conviction would have been punishable by up to five years in prison; the assault conviction would have been punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

“We couldn’t expose him to possibly years in prison,” Howaniec said.

This was the second time the two sides have attempted a plea agreement. In January, Panzino agreed to plead guilty to a charge of reckless conduct and was expected to spend 14 days in jail. The overall sentence would have been 18 months, plus two years on probation.

But that deal fell apart at the last minute when Panzino discovered he would lose his driver’s license for three years. With a baby less than a year old and the responsibilities of a full-time job, Panzino said he would rather take his chances on a trial.

On Wednesday, Justice Robert Clifford allowed Panzino to put off reporting to jail for his 30-day sentence until Monday to give him time to make arrangements for the baby and his job.

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