July 20, 2013

Teenager faces fine in Berwick teacher's death

Cameron Clair crossed the center line on Route 4, killing teacher Amy Harris and injuring her two young children.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

"It wasn't a swerve kind of thing," Lebrun said of the oncoming vehicle. "He didn't even look like he knew he was coming in our lane. It just looked like he was still coming right at me. I thought for sure he was going to hit me."

Lebrun swerved right, with no time to sound his horn.

"Honestly, I didn't even see the person. I just saw the front of his car," Lebrun said. "From what I saw, he wasn't trying to turn to get out of the way."

Lebrun's vehicle careened down an embankment, slid between a utility pole and a wrought-iron fence, then came back up the hill and he was able to drive back onto the road. It was only then that he realized there had been a crash behind him.

Harris, driving north in the family's 2006 Ford Freestyle station wagon, did not have enough time to get out of the way of the oncoming vehicle and they collided head-on.

By the time Lebrun got out of his car, many motorists on the busy morning commute had stopped to call for help or check on the occupants of the two cars. One person asked for a towel, saying someone was bleeding from the head.

Lebrun said he started toward the wreckage of the two vehicles, but then held back. He was too far away to see how badly anyone was hurt and couldn't hear anyone crying.

"I didn't really want to go and see what could have been the outcome. I didn't really want that in my head," he said. Lebrun said he would have checked on them if so many other people had not already been there to help.

Lebrun said he is at a loss to explain why the sport utility vehicle crossed into his lane.

"It just seemed to me he either fell asleep or something, or somebody having a heart attack and losing complete control," Lebrun said. "Whoever it was, he just wasn't conscious of where they were headed."

PROBE TOOK LONGER THAN USUAL

Stokes said the investigation took longer than usual because prosecutors wanted to thoroughly explore all angles of the case to help mute any suggestion that Clair's relationship to Slattery could have influenced the case, he said.

Stokes said investigators found nothing to indicate that Clair might have fallen asleep at the wheel. He had worked out on the school crew team the day before and done his homework that night before going to bed, Stokes said.

The charge of a motor vehicle infraction resulting in death was incorporated into the law in 2009 for situations in which the motorist at fault was not criminally negligent, which might support a charge of manslaughter, but did violate a traffic law that led directly to someone's death, Stokes said.

Appleby said the decision to bring a civil charge, not criminal, left her and Harris' friends wondering whether Clair's relationship to the county district attorney played a role, and the delays in bringing charges didn't dissolve those suspicions.

"There is a very angry community out there that no charges had been filed against this boy," Appleby said. "Myself, emotionally, I couldn't go to those places because it wasn't helping me at all."

"Part of me feels like everybody makes mistakes," she said, adding that although it is difficult to accept that the teenager's mistake caused her daughter's death, she understands how things like that could happen to someone.

"As a parent, you're looking in the rearview mirror at the kids fighting, ... someone's looking at the tape deck, changing a station," she said. "That can happen."

Appleby said there needs to be accountability, but equally important, an understanding of what was lost.

"When I'm feeling centered and grounded and I'm thinking clearly, I feel very badly for the young man," she said. "He has to live with this for the rest of his life."

At Harris' funeral, her family played a video that captured a sense of why she was so loved, Appleby said.

"If I were to go give punishment, it would be to watch that with her family," she said, her voice growing softer and intermingling with crying. "Just to know the reality of what he did, what he took away."

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@mainetoday.com

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