On Aug. 11, 2013, while getting ready for a trip to Monhegan Island from Port Clyde, Cheryl Torgerson drove her car into another car and a number of people, killing 9-year-old Dylan Gold and severely injuring Jonathan Coggeshall.

Knox County’s district attorney, Geoffrey Rushlau, has declined to press charges, because it would be difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Torgerson exhibited criminal negligence (“DA: No evidence to prosecute driver in Port Clyde fatal crash,” Feb. 7).

This is not an isolated incident. On April 10, 2013, Cameron Clair crossed the center line in his vehicle, killing Amy Harris and injuring her two children (“Teenager faces fine in Berwick teacher’s death,” July 20, 2013).

The charge against Clair is civil violation, which could result in a fine of up to $5,000 and a suspension of his license for up to four years.

What these cases illustrate is that each of us is susceptible to being killed by another driver, and, under various conditions, that driver can get off with a small penalty. In both of the above cases the real culprit is the requirement that the driver be shown to have “mens rea,” or “guilty mind.”

There is, however, another standard, called “strict liability.” In that case, there is no need to show mens rea; all that is necessary is to show that the person in question caused the damage or loss.


It can be next to impossible to know what was going on in a driver’s mind when he or she caused damage, but it is all too obvious that death and injury can result from such behavior. In order to reduce the frequency of such acts, I suggest that we move to a standard of strict liability.

William Vaughan Jr.

Chebeague Island


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