A former corrections officer at the Cumberland County Jail pleaded not guilty Monday to one count of manslaughter stemming from a car crash that killed a 9-year-old girl in July.

Kenneth Morang, 62, was indicted on one count of  Class A manslaughter in November in the death of Raelynn Bell of Cumberland, who was in the third row of her father’s SUV when Morang’s pickup truck slammed into the back of the family’s vehicle when it was stopped in traffic on Route 25 at the Dow Road intersection in Gorham.

Maine law defines Class A manslaughter as “recklessly, or with criminal negligence” causing the death of another person. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.

Morang had finished a 16-hour shift at the jail less than 30 minutes before the July 21 crash, and was traveling west on Route 25 in a Ford F-150 toward his home in Standish. After the crash, he told investigators that he had fallen asleep at the wheel.

Raelynn Bell GoFundMe

The force of the impact pushed the 2008 Honda Pilot driven by Raelynn’s father, Michael Bell, into the path of an oncoming vehicle. A total of six people, including Morang, were transported to the hospital following the crash. The family was returning from seeing the “The Lion King” movie.

Raelynn sustained a traumatic brain injury and never regained consciousness and was declared dead days later. She was remembered by family and friends as a radiant young girl who loved her siblings and had a contagious laugh. Raelynn attended the Mabel I. Wilson school in Cumberland, and completed the third grade about a month before she died.

Morang’s 13-year corrections career ended in November when he resigned because of injuries from the crash that prevented him from returning to work, the sheriff’s office said.

Morang had come off a string of long shifts before the crash, according to records released by the sheriff’s office. The accident raised questions about the extensive overtime worked by some corrections officers because of unfilled jobs at the jail.

Following Morang’s indictment, Sheriff Kevin Joyce said Morang was an excellent employee with no disciplinary issues during his tenure, and that the department was negotiating with the corrections union to develop a policy “that doesn’t unduly limit an employee’s desire to work overtime while fulfilling the needs of the organization’s vacant shifts.”

“There is no documented guidance on the optimum number of hours that an employee should (or) shouldn’t work overtime,” Joyce said. “Research indicates there is no federal or state law that governs the maximum number of hours of overtime an employee should work for their safety or anyone else’s safety.”

In the week before the wreck, Morang worked a total of 88 hours, and had done consecutive double-shifts during the two days immediately before the crash, according to information released by Joyce’s office. Morang’s last shift began at 11 p.m. July 20 and ended at 2:27 p.m. the next day, Joyce said. The crash occurred about 2:53 p.m., police said. All of the shifts that week were voluntary, the sheriff’s office has said.

Former corrections officer Kenneth Morang leaves the Cumberland County Courthouse on Monday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Morang appeared to still be recovering from his injuries during his appearance in the Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court on Monday. One foot was in a hard cast and he used crutches to get around.

Justice Harold Stewart agreed to allow Morang to remain free on personal recognizance bail while he awaits trial. Although the hearing was held in Portland, York County prosecutors are handling the case because Morang is a former Cumberland County employee.

During the brief hearing, Morang’s attorney, Amy Fairfield, argued against any bail.

“There’s no criminal history,” Fairfield said of her client. “This was an accident.”

Fairfield and York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan, who is prosecuting the case, declined to comment. Morang’s next court appearance is a dispositional conference scheduled for Feb. 3.

Employees who keep standard, 40-hour weeks typically work about 2,000 hours in a year, depending on vacation and time off. Before he retired, Morang earned $20.99 per hour, or a gross salary of about $43,659, according to the county.

Overtime is a common practice at the jail, where filling corrections jobs has proved difficult in recent years. Jail administrators also must enforce minimum staffing levels and may order corrections officers to remain on duty if there are not enough volunteers to take the extra shifts. In the five weeks before Morang’s crash, 15 to 17 employees worked more than three extra shifts each week, county records show.

On Monday, Chief Deputy Naldo Gagnon said there are currently 32 open corrections officer positions. To fill them, the county is evaluating 15 applicants, and four other people who already have been hired are expected to attend academy training starting Jan. 23.

Morang clocked 2,654.5 hours of overtime worth an additional $82,750 in 2018, and was on track to continue working a high number of overtime hours last year. Through July 13 of 2019, Morang worked 1,671.38 overtime hours, according to county records.

The assignment of overtime shifts is spelled out in the contract between the corrections union and the county, and provides for a rotating seniority-based system in which overtime shifts are offered to more senior employees first, while junior employees are the first to be “forced over” into working beyond their scheduled shift if not enough people sign up to staff an open shift.

The contract covers about 140 workers at the jail, most of whom are corrections officers. The jail is currently authorized under its budget for 128 corrections officers.

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