PARIS — An Auburn man has asked a court to block a request by the mother of a Turner teen killed in a hit-and-run crash two years ago that would secure his property in the event she prevails in a lawsuit. 

In court filings, attorneys for Bert Johnson, 43, asked an Oxford County Superior Court judge to throw out Sheila Cole’s motion for attachment against a house on Vernon Street in Auburn. Cole, who is suing Johnson in relation to her son’s 2014 death, has asked that the property be secured should a court award damages and Johnson be unable to pay. 

Johnson’s attorneys claim Cole is unlikely to prevail in the case, which they say is built upon unreliable witness statements. 

An attorney for Cole, meanwhile, has argued that Johnson’s decision to invoke his right not to incriminate himself during recent questioning be interpreted by the court as an admission to the allegations. 

In May, Cole filed a lawsuit in 11th District Court in Paris claiming Johnson, was high on drugs behind the wheel of a rented SUV that struck and killed Xavier Fuentes, 16, as he walked along Route 117 in Paris the night of March 15, 2014. 

Johnson, who police interviewed as a possible suspect in a criminal case, was never charged. While the standard of proof for a criminal conviction is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the standard in a civil case is “a preponderance of evidence.”

Although a lieutenant with the Paris Police Department eventually concluded that Johnson was behind the wheel, prosecutors at the Oxford County District Attorney’s Office declined to present the case to a grand jury, noting that with the lack of physical evidence, there wasn’t a “remote” chance of proving the case. 

The lawsuit draws extensively from that same police investigation. In it, Johnson and Laura Thenor, 30, of Sumner denied involvement or attempted to cast blame on each other.

The morning after the incident, Thenor said Johnson confided in her that he had hit a “little girl” while driving a rented Ford Expedition on Route 117 in Paris, and that he told her friend that the girl had died.

Another woman told police that Thenor confided she and Johnson were together and high on oxycodone when they struck something on the road. They stopped, saw blood and drove off, she said. 

Johnson’s wife, Melissa, turned over a taped exchanged between Johnson and Thenor in which he asked her if she’d spoken to anyone about an unspecified incident.

“No,” Thenor answered.

John Johnson told police that his brother was driving an SUV the morning after the crash and, when Bert Johnson was asked about a broken, passenger-side mirror and other damage, he said his wife hit a mailbox. 

When Bert started to wipe dirt off the SUV, John Johnson said he spotted what looked like blood on his brother’s shoes. 

Later, as Bert Johnson was being held in jail after being arrested on drug possession charges, a confidential informant for the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency told police that Johnson had admitted taking heroin, passing out and striking someone. Another inmate said Johnson told him he looked down at his cellphone and struck someone. 

Johnson told police that he and Thenor were driving different vehicles, and that she told him she thought she hit an animal. He later told police he’d actually been in Biddeford that night. 

Both Johnson and Thenor failed a polygraph test, according to the police report.

Forensic analysis of Johnson’s clothing by the Maine State Police Crime Lab and inspection of the vehicle, which was returned late to Hertz and had to repaired, did not yield any evidence. 

Johnson’s Portland-based attorneys, Peter Culley and Andrew Davis, have asked the court to throw out the case on the grounds that Cole lacks evidence. 

In response to several formal questions put to Johnson by Cole’s attorney, Jeffrey Wilson, Johnson invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination.

In response, Wilson has asked the court to infer Johnson’s guilt, arguing that during attachment hearings, the court may draw a negative inference.

Culley, meanwhile, has asked that argument be stricken from the court file because it came after the original motion for attachment. 

A hearing on the motion is set for Tuesday, July 26.

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