SOUTH PARIS — A Woodstock man who, while fleeing police in 2019 rear-ended a car off the road, killing its driver, was sentenced Thursday to spend two years behind bars.

Ethan Rioux-Poulios

Approving a plea agreement, Oxford County Superior Court Justice Thomas McKeon suspended five years of the seven-year prison sentence he imposed on 26-year-old Ethan Rioux-Poulios.

The defendant’s Maine driver’s license was suspended indefinitely by the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles, though he may seek reinstatement of his license after 10 years.

The May 20, 2019, crash on Route 26 in Woodstock killed 70-year-old John Pikiell of Norway.

At an emotionally charged court hearing, family members of the victim assailed Rioux-Poulios for his selfishness and cowardice, but urged him to change his ways and become a productive member of society.

Assistant District Attorney Richard Beauchesne said Thursday that police arrested Rioux-Poulios after finding the headlight assembly for a Mercury of 2005-07 vintage at the scene of the crash.

Police tracked that information to the defendant’s father, at whose home they found his silver 2005 Mercury Montego matching the description of the suspect vehicle hidden behind a trailer; it was missing a headlight assembly, Beauchesne said.

Ethan Rioux-Poulios of Woodstock, far right, sits Thursday in Oxford County Superior Court in Paris during his plea and sentencing on a 2019 manslaughter charge. Screenshot from video

Had the case gone to trial, an off-duty Oxford County Sheriff’s Office deputy would have testified that he had passed a car on Route 26 that was clocked at 85 mph, Beauchesne said.

The deputy reversed direction to catch up to the speeding car with lights flashing and siren wailing. He came upon the crash scene instead, where a 2015 Subaru Outback had gone off the road and slammed into a tree, killing Pikiell. The car had been hit from behind.

A medical examiner said the cause of death was blunt force trauma.

Beauchesne said he would have called as a witness at trial a man who was a passenger in the car driven by Rioux-Poulios. Beauchesne also said he would have called to the stand a friend of the defendant, who would have testified that Rioux-Poulios called him after the crash and told him: “I messed up. I was being chased by the cops. I could see the blue lights. I turned around to see if the blue lights were still behind me. And when I turned back around, I hit a car in front of me.”

Amy Heard, Pikiell’s daughter told the judge Thursday, “There are no words that can adequately express our loss. Even now it cuts like a knife, twisting in my chest.”

She said the loss of her father has caused her marriage to fray, her family to seek therapy, her house to be in disarray, “all because my emotions are scrambled and my brain is paralyzed by my grief.”

Heard said when she puts her children in a car with her husband, she worries, “if they will get there safely. Will I see them again? Or if they, too, will suddenly be gone.”

She wonders, “Who will be on the road tonight? Who will be drunk, high, reckless, speeding before dawn today? Will I meet them? Will they hit me? Will they kill me? Will I be the one gone and my children the ones trapped inside this terrible grief?” Because the defendant fled the scene of the crash where her father lay dying, and his friends and family helped him hide, the court isn’t able to determine whether Rioux-Poulios had been under the influence at the time of the crash, she said.

Heard said she’d prefer he spend a long time in prison, but in the alternative, “I ask the court to do its best to prevent Ethan from killing more people,” she said.

Catherine Thibodeau, Pikiell’s stepdaughter, said Thursday that Pikiell was loved by the many family relations, including grandchildren.

He had worked 50 years toward his retirement, which he had just begun to enjoy.

To Rioux-Poulios, she said: Ethan, it is my most sincere and desperate hope that you will see our family’s pain, especially my sisters’, and gain a full understanding of the profound, negative, lifelong impact your choices have had on us. I am asking for you, right here today, to commit to get whatever help you need and do whatever is in your power to stop this path of destruction. To stop creating more victims. To stop killing and hurting people. Life will be better and your community will be safer if you do so.”

Rioux-Poulios, dressed in a tan jail suit, said: “I’m truly sorry for you guys’ loss, you know. Honestly, I am.”

His attorney, James Howaniec, said his client had as “serious, serious drug addiction.”

When he’s high, Howaniec said, Rioux-Poulios is “miserable to deal with.” He’s sarcastic and unpleasant. “You just want to wring his neck,” Howaniec said.

But when sober, his client is a different person, he said, adding he’s one of the best clients he’s worked with in his three decades practicing law.

Howaniec said the silver lining of his client’s incarceration has been his sobriety.

Howaniec told the judge Thursday that although he and his client had been prepared to go to trial, there was enough evidence assembled against him that he could have been convicted, which would have exposed him to up to 30 years behind bars.

When he’s released from jail, Rioux-Poulios will be on probation for two years, during which he is prohibited from having any illegal drugs.

Comments are not available on this story.