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Driver in fatal accident gets suspended sentence

Admits to being distracted by electronics

GREENFIELD — The teenage driver of a car that struck and fatally injured a Connecticut motorcyclist last July has been given a suspended jail sentence and community service, speaking about distracted driving.

Jacob M. Earl, 18, of 121 Elm St., Buckland, was initially cited for negligent operation and marked lanes violation in the July 21 crash, which sent two motorcyclists to the hospital. One motorcyclist, Douglas C. Chouinard, 56, of Enfield, Conn., died later that evening of his injuries at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield.

Earl eventually pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide by negligent operation.

Judge Maureen Walsh on Thursday handed down a 2½--year suspended jail sentence with 100 hours of community service, to be spent speaking at schools and other available programs on the topic of distracted driving.

Earl pleaded responsible to the two lesser charges of sending or reading electronic messages while driving and marked lanes violation, both civil infractions, and was fined $100 for each.

According to State Police Trooper Jonathan O’Loughlin’s report, he was called to the accident at 4:24 p.m. and found paramedics tending to Chouinard, a second motorcycle operator, Drinda J. Carey, 54, also of Enfield, and Earl.

All three were taken to the hospital, Earl and Carey for non-life-threatening injuries.

O’Loughlin initially issued Earl a citation for negligent operation and failure to observe marked lanes. Two months later, O’Loughlin issued an amended citation charging Earl with negligent motor vehicle homicide and sending, reading or composing electronic messages while operating.

“It was also learned after looking into Earl’s AT&T phone records that he was sending and receiving text messages on his cell phone immediately prior to the crash,” O’Loughlin wrote.

First Assistant District Attorney Steven E. Gagne wrote in a statement that there was no direct evidence that texting is what caused the crash, however.

“There was evidence that the defendant had sent two text messages approximately 2-3 minutes before the crash, and we believe he was probably behind the wheel at that time,” Gagne wrote. “However, during the plea colloquy, the defendant maintained his insistence that he was not texting at the time of the crash. Instead, he attributed his crossing over the center line to being distracted by his dashboard-mounted GPS device. Nevertheless, he did plead “responsible” to the texting violation, which was a civil infraction that carried a fine only.”

According to a defense filing, Earl had just left one of his part-time jobs at a Shelburne Falls sandwich shop to make a delivery.

Included in the court file are 16 letters of support from community members attesting to Earl’s character.

Earl was 17 at the time of the crash and an athlete and honor student at the Franklin County Technical School, from which he graduated this spring.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2011 and an additional, 387,000 people were injured. In 2010, the NHTSA reported 18 percent of injury crashes as distraction-affected, with 3,267 killed and 416,000 injured that year.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

i am appalled at the slap on the wrist this man received for taking a life. I realize it was an accident but his choices created it. I also understand it is something he has to live with for the rest of his life which i could not begin to imagine the horror of that. if someone killed a person in a drug related deal or just got caught selling drugs for food or to support their family they would be getting a much stiffer sentence and could face life in prison. but if u text and drive or get distracted by a gps device and injure or kill a person u get a fine a suspended sentence and community service. Where the hell is the justice in that. i think the penalty he received is unconscionable my heart goes out to all involved. jacob if u read this please understand i have no idea what you are going through but i hope this tragedy opens your eyes and helps u make changes even after your sentence is complete my heart is with u and ur family as well .my condolences to the family of douglas chouinard my heart is with u all

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