PARIS — In a dramatic demonstration of how far Kristina Lowe and her friend, Jacob Skaff, walked after they left the scene of an accident that killed two Oxford Hills teens, Maine State Police Trooper Thomas Welch held an oversized aerial photograph of the route the two walked and he counted — out loud — the number of houses they passed without stopping to ask for help.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven, and on up to 24. Maybe, Welch said, there were 25. One of the buildings in the photo could have been a barn.

Welch was the first witness to be called to testify in the Lowe vehicular manslaughter trial in Oxford County Superior Court on Thursday.

In asking Welch to count the houses out loud, Assistant District Attorney Richard Beauchesne made the point that Lowe and Skaff, knowing that Rebecca Mason and Logan Dam were killed when the car the four of them was in hit a stand of trees, did not stop to get help for them.

“There was no evidence they stopped,” Welch said.

Beauchesne told the jury that once Lowe and Skaff extricated themselves from the car and left 16-year-old Mason and 19-year-old Dam, both of West Paris, behind, they walked 1.1 miles back to the party they had been attending on Yeaton Lane in West Paris. Lowe, who suffered a broken back, broken nose and concussion, also lost a shoe in the crash so she walked that distance with one bare foot.

“They went to a place that was safe for them,” Beauchesne said. “And sadly,” he continued, once they returned to the party Lowe asked her friends not to call 911. After someone did, she asked if someone at the party could take her away from the house. “She wanted to get farther” from the accident, Beauchesne said, arguing that doing so fits the legal standard for gross deviation in conduct from what a reasonable person would do, making her actions criminal.

Lowe, now 21, of West Paris faces five felony charges: two charges of vehicular manslaughter, two charges of aggravated criminal operating under the influence and one charge of leaving the scene of a fatal accident on Jan. 7, 2012, on Route 219 in West Paris.

Trooper Daniel Hanson, an accident reconstructionist, testified that at the time Lowe lost control of her car she had been going 75 mph along a road zoned for 50 mph, and it went airborne at about 71 mph before hitting a stand of trees, shearing off one of them. After it left the road, the car went roof-first into the trees. Beauchesne presented the jury with a poster-sized photo of the damaged car, clearly showing the damage to the roof and back seat where Mason and Dam had been sitting.

During parts of Thursday’s testimony, Dam’s mother, Deb Sande, and Mason’s father, Jerrold Mason, could be heard crying in the back row of the courtroom. Sande left the room several times, including during much of defense attorney Jim Howaneic’s opening argument.

In that opening, Howaniec acknowledged there was a party on Yeaton Lane where teenagers and young adults were drinking. And that some time shortly before midnight on Jan. 6 Lowe, Skaff, Mason and Dam got into a car and went for a drive “and by the end of that drive there was a horrible accident. A horrific accident. An accident that has caused unspeakable pain to the Mason family, to the family of Logan Dam, to friends, relatives, co-workers, the entire community.”

As a result of that pain, he said, people want to find someone guilty of something, particularly at this time of year when young people are attending drinking parties after proms and graduations. He urged the jury not to think of any circumstances in which other teens had died in car accidents, but to focus only on what was to be presented in what he said would be a very emotional case.

Howaniec noted that the state’s evidence consists largely of witness statements, some of which have changed over the past 2½ years, but that he intended to present scientific evidence that did not support the state’s contention that Lowe was impaired or that she had been distracted by an incoming text message. He implied that she may not even have been driving.

Howaniec also suggested that if Lowe was ever impaired, it had been by prescription painkillers administered after the accident that caused a mind-altering condition as she spoke with police officers. Pointing to his client, he reminded the jurors that Lowe was only 18 at the time of the accident, that she had suffered significant injuries, including frostbite to her foot, and was likely disoriented when she rejoined her friends and was later questioned by police.

He appeared incredulous when he told the jury that the state, despite these mental and physical conditions, “is asking you to convict her of double manslaughter.”

In making his presentation, Beauchesne told jurors he faces a grim and heavy responsibility in presenting the facts of the case, and asked the jurors to remember that the case — although referred to as Maine vs. Kristina Lowe — was really about Mason and Dam.

The prosecutor told jurors that he intended to present evidence that Lowe had consumed alcohol and marijuana in the hours before the crash, was speeding at the time of the crash, was distracted while attempting to read an incoming text message, and that Dam had attempted to avert the crash by reaching from the back seat to get to the steering wheel but wasn’t able to correct the direction of the car.

“All those circumstances came together at the time of the crash,” Beauchesne said, resulting in the deaths of Mason and Dam.

Beauchesne said he intended to prove the fatal crash was the second crash Lowe caused that night. Earlier in the evening, he said, she crashed into a tree in the driveway of the house where she was attending a party and her friends took her car keys. But, he said, “She got them back.”

Howaniec intends to argue Lowe encountered black ice conditions on Route 219, likely the cause of the crash, but three police officers who testified Thursday said the conditions that night were “fine.” The road was wet from a recent snowstorm, but it had been sanded and salted and the officers each said that while they were speeding to respond to the report of a likely fatal accident, they had no problems with slick roads.

When police arrived at the crash scene, they found Mason and Dam and believed the front-seat occupants had fled. At about the same time, there was a call for an ambulance to go to a home on Yeaton Lane to help an injured person.

While Welch made death notifications to the Mason and Dam families, other officers went to the Yeaton Lane home where they found evidence of a drinking party. Lowe was on a bed in one of the rooms, crying and in obvious pain, and was being comforted by 14-year-old Baylee Heikkinen who lived on the same street as the party house.

Heikkinen is expected to testify for the prosecution, as are a number of other party-goers.

None of the officers who went to the house reported that Lowe seemed obviously impaired. In fact, they found that she was responsive to direction, didn’t smell like alcohol, didn’t slur her words and didn’t have bloodshot eyes, according to witness testimony Thursday.

She was not administered a field sobriety test because she was so badly injured, but police did draw blood after she arrived at Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway. Her blood alcohol content registered 0.04 percent; the legal limit for intoxication is 0.08, according to trial testimony.

Her blood also showed trace metabolites of marijuana; police found a baggie of marijuana in her coat pocket and a pipe in the wrecked car. No one at the party told police they saw Lowe smoking, according to witness testimony.

Much of the evidence Beauchesne intends to present, he said, will be “statements Lowe made to different people regarding her intoxication.” She told Trooper Adam Fillebrown, who arrived at the Yeaton Lane house at about the same time as the ambulance, that she “was too drunk to drive.” Beauchesne indicated that was an admission of drinking, but Fillebrown testified that he interpreted her response differently.

He said he quickly asked her, as ambulance personnel were coming into the house, whether she had been driving. “I was too drunk to drive,” she told him, so he thought that meant she recognized she had been too drunk and was not driving.

But, Beauchesne said, as soon as she arrived back at the party house, she told a number of her friends that she had been “texting and driving.” She also told paramedics she had two shots of liquor and knew she shouldn’t be driving, and she told her friends she’d had “five shots of Jagermeister liquor. Five. The last one, one half-hour before she left on that fateful trip,” Beauchesne said.

The prosecutor entered into evidence several cans of Red Bull, a bottle of Jagermeister and two cans of Four Loco, an energy drink with 11 percent alcohol content, which police recovered from Lowe’s car after the crash. Also entered was an intact bottle of espresso-flavored vodka found in the woods near Lowe’s cellphone, which had been ejected from the car.

Beauchesne also entered the white winter coat Lowe was wearing that night which was sprinkled with brown stains, setting the clear plastic bag with the coat in it directly in front of the jury.

Beauchesne is being assisted by Assistant District Attorney Joseph O’Connor, and Lewiston attorney Chelsea Peters is assisting Howaniec. Four of Lowe’s supporters, including her mother, sat behind her during Thursday’s proceedings.

Several members of Mason’s and Dam’s families and their friends were present, but sat on the opposite side of the courtroom.

Police believe Skaff, of South Paris, who was 22 at the time of the crash, purchased alcohol for the party. He has been given immunity from prosecution in this case, and will be called as a witness for the prosecution and the defense.

The trial is scheduled to continue at 9 a.m. Friday and is expected to last into next week.

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: