A 25-year-old Windham man will serve more than three years in prison on charges stemming from a 2006 motor vehicle accident that took the life of a Gorham mother and injured her two children.

Jeffrey Morse, who has been in Cumberland County Jail for the last 11 months after violating provisions of his bail, was sentenced to 12 years in prison with all but 3 1/2 years suspended, after pleading guilty to manslaughter and operating under the influence. The sentence was handed down Wednesday in Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland.

He will be credited for time served, and will be eligible for release in 2 1/2 years, after which he will serve four years of probation. Morse must also pay a $2,100 fine and complete 1,000 hours of community service upon his release. His motor vehicle license will be suspended for at least 10 years.

The prosecution had asked that all but four to six years be suspended, while the defense had requested that Morse serve 20-30 months.

Before the sentence was read, Morse, wearing a beige suit and shackled at the ankles, rose to address the family of Christine Candelmo, the 37-year-old woman killed in the accident at the intersection of Route 202 and Falmouth Road.

In a shaky and breaking voice, Morse said he would live the rest of his life knowing he shattered Candelmo’s family by taking her life. He also apologized if his actions since the accident, including an arrest for violating his bail provision by drinking, led the family to believe he was not remorseful.

“There’s nothing I can say or do to earn your forgiveness,” Morse said, walking away from a podium and toward the Candelmo family. “I just want you all to know I am truly sorry.”

Morse’s tearful pleas did little to sway Candelmo’s family, including her daughter, Courtney, now 15, who survived the accident that killed her mother. Courtney not only lost her mother in the accident, but also has been separated from her brother, Nolan Cammack, 2, who was also injured in the accident. Nolan now lives near Bangor, and is not able to see his sister on a regular basis.

If Morse is so sorry, Courtney Candelmo said after asking to speak to the court, why did he fight the charges for so long and not accept “the proper punishment?”

Christine’s father, Ed Candelmo of Limerick, who is now Courtney’s guardian, was disappointed in the sentence.

“I think it stinks. Two-and-a-half years for all that?” he said. “But what can you do? It’s over.”

The emotional and gut-wrenching testimony given by friends and family of both Morse and Candelmo replayed the night of Dec. 3, 2006 when the lives of the two families tragically intersected at the corner of Falmouth Road and Route 202 in Windham. The accident took a mother, daughter and sister from one family, and a son, at least for his sentence, from the other. It has left both irrevocably broken.

Morse spent the night of Dec. 2, 2006 drinking with friends, first at Montebello Ristorante in Raymond, then at a friend’s house, where the party continued until 6 a.m.

After sleeping off the many rounds of beers and shots, Morse met friends at Pat’s Pizza in Windham to watch football. While there, Morse eventually admitted, he had one beer, though at first through the investigation and subsequent court dates, he maintained he did not drink that night.

The friends left Pat’s Pizza just before 7 p.m., with Morse behind the wheel, his friends in tow. Morse had offered to drive because his friends were drunk, Morse told investigators. They made a stop for more beer, one of which was opened and in the front seat at the time of the crash.

At the same time, Candelmo and her two children were on their way home after spending the day together. They had decorated a Christmas tree and had such a good time with Candelmo’s father that Nolan did not want to leave.

Heading east on Route 202, Morse hit the brakes around five seconds before the accident, according to his truck’s “black box,” which records the actions of a vehicle. A second or two before the accident, Morse hit the gas and went through the stop sign. He maintained that he tried to hit the brakes, but they failed. An inspection of the vehicle revealed no brake problems, and Morse’s attorney, Thomas Hallett, surmised that Morse meant to hit the brakes but instead missed and hit the gas.

Morse’s 2006 Chevy, traveling as fast as 61 mph in a 40 mph zone according to the “black box,” shot past the stop sign, striking Candelmo’s 1995 Toyota Corolla. They were listening to music, Courtney remembered Wednesday, when she heard her mother scream.

“That’s the last thing I remember about my mom,” she told the court.

On impact, Candelmo’s car ricocheted into a roadside tree before coming to rest in a driveway at 343 Falmouth Road. Candelmo was likely killed instantly. Nolan suffered a brain injury, and Courtney was injured, as well. Through her pain, Courtney asked the emergency personnel to help her mother, said Assistant District Attorney Meg Elam.

Just a short time later, Gorham police officers arrived at the door of Candelmo’s sister, Catherine Candelmo, who knew instantly that something bad had happened. When she was told the tragic news, she just could not believe her sister was gone.

“I felt my knees giving out, and I fell to the floor in shock,” she said.

Later, she said curled up with Courtney in her hospital bed, unsure of how they would go on.

At the same time, Jeffrey Morse’s mother, Catherine, was being notified that her son had been involved in a fatal accident, and was at the police station. In the courtroom Wednesday, Catherine Morse, her hands shaking as she read from prepared testimony, described her son as “vacant and empty” in the days following the accident.

“All he could say was ‘Mom, I killed their mother,'” she told the court. Later, when Jeffrey Morse and his father, Raymond Fire Chief Denis Morse, visited the scene of the accident, the younger Morse broke down, telling his father that he could not feel any worse. It was only then, she said, that Morse’s father began to sense his son’s dismay and start down the road to forgiveness.

Candelmo’s mother, Eileen Candelmo, also spoke of forgiveness. Turning from the podium to speak directly to Morse, Eileen Candelmo said she hopes he can make something of his life, since her daughter no longer has that chance.

“I pray every night that I can forgive you,” she said, her eyes welling with tears.

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: