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Texting crash may put teen  in jail

GREENFIELD — A Buckland teen could spend up to 2 1∕ 2 years in jail on charges that stem from a fatal July accident.

“It’s too soon to say what the Northwest District Attorney’s Office will seek in terms of a penalty,” if there is a conviction or plea bargain, said Steven E. Gagne, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case.

Gagne said it will depend whether the defendant, Jacob Earl, will bring the charges to trial.

Earl, 17, was driving a Honda Accord that collided with a Connecticut man’s motorcycle on July 21. The accident occurred at 4:30 p.m. on Route 2 in Charlemont. Motorcyclist Douglas Chouinard, 56, of Enfield, died later that night of his injuries in Baystate Medical Center in Springfield.

The prosecution argues that Chouinard’s death was the result of distracted driving on Earl’s part.

Evidence shows that “Earl sent and received multiple text messages immediately preceding, and following, the fatal accident that claimed the life of Douglas Chouinard,” said Gagne.

At this time, the prosecution is not releasing the content or the number of those messages, though Gagne said that, following the case’s resolution, that evidence will likely be made public.

Earl has been charged with vehicular homicide by negligent operation, sending or receiving electronic messages while driving, and a marked lanes violation.

Several character witnesses have stepped forth for the defendant.

Fourteen letters from school teachers, coaches and administrators, friends, family, and employers, the family’s former pastor and others have been filed with the court on the Franklin County Technical School senior’s behalf.

They speak of a kind, good-hearted student, an empathetic young man who they say will be punished enough by knowing he was involved in an accident that took a man’s life.

“I cannot say whether (the letters) will affect our position, but it’s never a bad thing to know more, rather than less, about the parties involved in a case,” said Gagne. He said he has yet to read them.

The prosecution will also hear from those who knew and miss Chouinard.

“An important factor in any position we take would be the input we receive from the family and loved ones of Mr. Chouinard,” said Gagne.

Whatever prosecutors decide to seek for a penalty against Earl will be limited by the law.

“Negligent (motor vehicle) homicide is, unfortunately, a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 21∕ 2 years in the house of correction,” said Gagne. “For some defendants, however, the greater penalty is the 15-year loss of license.”

The 15-year license suspension is required under state law for any first conviction of vehicular homicide. A second conviction results in a life-long revocation.

Texting while driving is a civil infraction, with a maximum penalty of a $100 fine for a first offense. The state law against texting while driving went into effect in September 2010.

In a June case in Haverhill district court, Aaron Deveu, 18, of Haverhill, was convicted on negligent motor vehicle homicide and texting while driving charges. Deveau was the first person tried and convicted in a fatal accident caused by texting in the state.

He was sentenced to 2 1∕ 2 years in jail, ordered to serve one year with the remainder suspended. Deveau also lost his license for 15 years.

Earl is due back in court Nov. 20 for a pretrial conference.

David Rainville can be reached at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

This is horrific for everyone involved. Teens are not the only ones texting ~ Someone needs to find a way to stop texting, calls ~ these distractions are running rampant, out of control and taking lives ~ What text or phone call is so important that it takes a life ~ It could be "Your life" ~ think about it ~ How do we stop this epidemic?????

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