Two women and a 1-year-old girl were killed May 20, 2021, when struck by a vehicle along this stretch of Cony Road in Augusta. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday rejected the driver’s appeal of his nine-year license suspension.  Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — A Chelsea man whose vehicle struck and killed three pedestrians, including a baby and her grandmother, has lost his appeal to the state’s highest court after contesting his nine-year license suspension.

Robert Santerre, 58, was driving on Cony Road in Augusta on May 20, 2021, when he became drowsy and crossed the double-yellow line, veering off the road. Santerre’s vehicle crashed into Rosalyn Jean, 62, Barbara Maxim-Hendsbee, 69, and Vada-Leigh Peaslee, Maxim-Hendsbee’s 1-year-old granddaughter.

In August 2022, Santerre admitted to three counts of committing a motor vehicle violation resulting in death. His sentence, imposed by Superior Court Justice Deborah Cashman, suspended his license for nine years — three years each on the three counts of committing a motor vehicle violation, one for each death.

Santerre appealed that license suspension, claiming the trial court erred when it determined Santerre had committed three civil violations. He argued the court abused its discretion when it imposed three license suspensions to be served consecutively, which effectively prevents him from having a driver’s license for nine years.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court, in a decision released Tuesday, rejected Santerre’s appeal, saying the law clearly allows separate violations for each death that occurs as a result of a driving violation. That authorizes courts to impose consecutive license sentences at the trial judge’s discretion.

A granite bench off of Cony Road in Augusta memorializes two women and a baby who were killed while walking along that road. Keith Edwards/Kennebec Journal

“The record sufficiently demonstrates that the trial court intended to impose penalties to both protect public safety by keeping Santerre off the road and to coerce Santerre and others into complying with driving laws,” Justice Joseph Jabar wrote in the justices’ decision. “The trial court discussed the need for public safety, expressing its concern that Santerre had been driving for only approximately ten minutes before falling asleep at the wheel, which suggests that the trial court fashioned the penalty to promote the public safety by preventing Santerre from driving. The trial court also discussed the need for people to follow driving laws, stating that distracted driving comes in many forms, including driving while fatigued, which has an impact on people’s privilege to operate a motor vehicle in this state.”


Maeghan Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, said the high court’s case was precedent-setting and significant.

“The decision is clear and will enable district attorney’s offices to pursue consecutive sentences in other civil cases as well,” Maloney said Tuesday. “So there is significance in this instance and there will be in the future.”

Meanwhile, Maloney said her “thoughts and prayers remain with the families” of the victims, calling the deadly crash “the greatest tragedy” she’s come across in her role as district attorney.

“I know the families will be grieving this loss forever and I’m glad they’ll have some comfort in knowing Mr. Santerre will not be driving for nine years,” Maloney said. “The family never wanted to see Mr. Santerre punished; they wanted to see the public protected from his driving. And that’s what this decision accomplishes. We don’t want anyone else to experience such a tragedy.”

As part of his sentence, Santerre paid $5,000 in March for the city of Augusta to create a memorial on the road where the tragedy took place. A granite bench with the names and photos of those killed has been added to the area, near a wooden cross that also commemorates the victims. City officials said a sidewalk will be built on that section of Cony Road, though it has not been constructed yet.

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