PARIS — When the vehicular manslaughter trial of Kristina Lowe started Thursday morning, Assistant District Attorney Richard Beauchesne said the trial wasn’t about Lowe. It was about Rebecca Mason and Logan Dam, the two backseat passengers killed Jan. 7, 2012, when Lowe lost control of her car in West Paris and crashed into a stand of trees.

“It is my grim and heavy responsibility to present to you the case of state of Maine vs. Kristina Lowe,” Beauchesne said to jurors, but asked them to look beyond the words of the five felony-count indictment and think about 16-year-old Mason and 19-year-old Dam when hearing the evidence he intends to present in the coming week.

Lowe was indicted in 2012 on 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. If convicted of all charges, she faces more than 60 years in jail.

Beauchesne, presenting his opening statement in less than a half-hour, told the jury that he intended to present evidence that Lowe had consumed alcohol and marijuana in the hours before her death, was speeding at the time of the crash, that she was distracted while attempting to read an incoming phone message, and that Dam had attempted to avert the crash by reaching from the back seat to reach the wheel, but wasn’t able to correct the direction of the car.

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

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

As Beauchesne laid out the evidence he intended to present, Mason’s father Jerrold Mason and Dam’s mother Deb Sande, could be heard quietly crying in the back row in the courtroom.

“There’s also the charge of leaving the scene,” he said, telling the jury that they should expect to hear evidence that Lowe was driving, that Jacob Skaff was seated in the front passenger seat, and that the victims were both sitting in the back.

And, Beauchesne said, he will present evidence that Lowe and “Skaff extricated themselves from the vehicle and left Logan Dam. And left Rebecca Mason.”

They didn’t go to the nearest house for help, he said. Instead, they walked 1.1 miles back to the party they had been attending on Yeaton Lane in West Paris, passing at least two dozen houses along the way.  “They went to a place that was safe for them,” he said, even though it was clear that Mason and Dam were dead.

When Lowe and Skaff returned to the party, Beauchesne told the jury he would present evidence that, “sadly,” Lowe asked her friends not to call 911, and after someone did, she asked someone to take her away from that house. “She wanted to get farther” from the  accident, Beachesne said.

In his opening statement, defense attorney Jim Howaniec acknowledged there was a party on Yeaton Lane where teens and young adults were drinking. And, that some time before midnight 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 this case in Oxford County Superior Court.

Howaniec noted that the state’s evidence consisted largely of witness statements, some of which have changed over the past 2½ years, but that he would present scientific evidence that did not support the state’s contention that Lowe was impaired or that she had been speeding. He inferred she may not even have been driving.

Howaniec also suggested that if Lowe was impaired, it had been by prescription pain killers given 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 just 18 at the time of the accident, that she had suffered a broken back, broken nose and a concussion, and was likely disoriented. And, after walking back to the party house, she sustained frostbite on a foot after losing a shoe in the crash.

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

At some point during Howaniec’s presentation, Dam’s mother left the courtroom in tears.

The state called Trooper Thomas Welch, the lead investigator in this case, as its first witness.

During the course of that testimony, Welch confirmed that Skaff had been given immunity in this case, despite the fact that police had evidence he purchased alcohol for party-goers. According to the district attorney’s office, it was not possible to prove that the alcohol he purchased was connected with the crash, which is why he was not charged.

This story will be updated.


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