March 16, 2010

Charges added in fatal wrong-way crash



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Gordon Chibroski

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Gordon Chibroski

Staff Writer

A Wells woman who drove the wrong way on the Maine Turnpike for five miles before hitting an oncoming car and killing two people inside was indicted on manslaughter charges Wednesday by a York County grand jury.

Donna J. Bartlett, who is free on $10,000 bail, was indicted on a total of 15 counts, according to the York County District Attorney's Office.

In addition to the two manslaughter charges, Bartlett, 38, was indicted on two counts each of operating under the influence, driving to endanger and leaving the scene of an accident; six counts of reckless conduct with a weapon; and a single count of aggravated assault.

Police say Bartlett was drunk on April 28 when she hit the Lincoln Town Car near mile marker 14 on the northbound side of the interstate, killing two of the three occupants.

During her five-mile wrong-way drive, a state trooper tried to get her attention for two miles, but she never acknowledged the trooper, officials said.

The limousine driver, James McLaughlin, 65, and a passenger, Cooper Campbell, 15, were killed in the crash. Campbell's father, Steven Campbell, 48, was badly injured. McLaughlin was driving the Campbells back to Maine from Logan Airport in Boston.

Bartlett was treated for minor injuries, and appeared in court on crutches on May 20, when she answered to two counts of manslaughter and one count of aggravated drunken driving.

Now that she has been indicted, Bartlett will be arraigned in York County Superior Court on Aug. 22.

Family members of the victims said they were pleased by the indictments.

''I'm glad that they indicted her and I'm glad that there were a lot more charges put in place,'' said Alyson Knox, McLaughlin's daughter. ''Not only did she kill two people, she seriously injured Steve (Campbell) and she scared a lot of people and could have hurt a lot more people with what she did.''

Campbell put out a brief statement, saying: ''I remain steadfast in my support of the people moving this process forward. The scope of this indictment reconfirms my belief in the professionals of the prosecutor's office.''

Calls to Bartlett's home and to her attorney, John Webb, were not returned.

District Attorney Mark Lawrence declined to detail the evidence that led the grand jury to indict Bartlett on the multiple charges, saying it will be presented at trial and he does not want to jeopardize the case.

He did say that a person could be charged with leaving the scene if there is an accident that involves damage and a person does not stop. State police said Bartlett's SUV sideswiped a few other vehicles before the deadly crash.

Officials would not disclose the results of Bartlett's blood alcohol test. According to an affidavit, her blood alcohol level two hours after the accident was in excess of the state limit of 0.08 percent, but her exact reading and the results of further blood tests will not be released, according to Lawrence and Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland.

Bartlett, who was convicted of drunken driving in 1989 and 1992, faces as much as 40 years in prison and a $50,000 fine just on the two counts of manslaughter.

According to state police and turnpike officials, Bartlett got on the turnpike at the Wells interchange, five miles north of the crash site in Ogunquit, by going the wrong way on the northbound exit ramp. A motorist leaving the turnpike saw her and told a toll booth operator, who radioed police for help just after 11 p.m.

Police got numerous calls about the wrong-way driver, and state police Trooper Philip Alexander caught up to Bartlett three miles after she got on the turnpike. He said he drove alongside Bartlett, on the opposite side of the 25-foot-wide grass median, flashing lights and blaring his siren to get her attention. Bartlett didn't acknowledge the trooper, officials said.

In 1992, when she was 23, Bartlett had her license suspended for three months for driving with a blood-alcohol content of 0.19 percent. In 1989, when she was 19, she was involved in an accident in Wells and had a blood-alcohol content of 0.12 percent. Between those incidents and the April crash, she received a single speeding ticket, in 2001.

Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 282-8226 or at:

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